A BOOK oh
MODES AND COSTUMES
FROM REMOTE PERIODS TO THE PRESENT TIME.
By W. B. L.
WITH 54 FULL-PAGE AND OTHER ENGRAVINGS.
" wha will shoe my fair foot,
Aud wha will glove my han' ?
And wha will lace my middle jimp
Wi' a new-made London ban' ?"
Fair Annie of L&hroyan.
W A R D, LOCK, AND TYLER.
WARWICK HOUSE, PATERNOSTER ROW.
PRINTKD BY JAS. WAOE,
TAVISTOCK STREET, COVBSI GARDEN
The subject which we have here treated is a sort of figurative
battle-field, where fierce contests have for ages been from time to time
waged; and, notwithstanding the determined assaults of the attacking
hosts, the contention and its cause remain pretty much as they were at the
commencement of the war. We in the matter remain strictly neutral,
merely performing the part of the public's " own correspondent," making
it our duty to gather together such extracts from despatches, both ancient
and modern, as may prove interesting or important, to take note of the
vicissitudes of war, mark its various phases, and, in fine, to do our best
to lay clearly before our readers the historical facts — experiences and
arguments — relating to the much-discussed " Corset question"
As most of our readers are aware, the leading journals especially
intended for the perusal of ladies have been for many years the media
for the exchange of a vast number of letters and papers touching
the use of the Corset. The questions relating to the history of
this apparently indispensable article of ladies' attire, its construction,
application, and influence on the figure have become so numerous of late
that we have thought, by embodying all that we can glean and garner
relating to Corsets, their wearers, and the various costumes worn by
ladies at different periods, arranging the subject-matter in its due order
as to dates, and at the same time availing ourselves of careful illustration
when needed, that an interesting volume would result.
No one, we apprehend, would be likely to deny that, to enable the
fairer portion of the civilised human race to follow the time-honoured
custom of presenting to the eye the waist in its most slender pro-
portions, the Corset in some form must be had recourse to. Our
information will show how ancient and almost universal its use has
been, and there is no reason to anticipate that its aid will ever be
dispensed with so long as an elegant and attractive figure is an object
Such being the case, it becomes a matter of considerable importance
to discover by what means the desirable end can be acquired without
injury to the health of those whose forms are being restrained and
moulded into proportions generally accepted as graceful, by the use and
influence of the Corset. It will be our duty to lay before the reader
the strictures of authors, ancient and modern, on this article of dress,
and it will be seen that the animadversions of former writers greatly
exceed modern censures, both in number and fierceness of condemnation.
This difference probably arises from the fact of Corsets of the most
unyielding and stubborn character being universally made use of at the
time the severest attacks were made upon them ; and there can be no
reasonable doubt that much which was written in their condemnation
had some truth in it, although accompanied by a vast deal of fanciful
exaggeration. It would also be not stating the whole of the case if we
omitted here to note that modern authors, who launch sweeping
anathemas on the very stays by the aid of which their wives and
daughters are made presentable in society, almost invariably quote
largely from scribes of ancient date, and say little or nothing, of their
own knowledge. On the other hand, it will be seen that those
writing in praise of the moderate use of Corsets take their facts,
experiences, and grounds of argument from the every-day life and
general custom of the present period.
The Crinoline is too closely associated with the Corset and with the
mutable modes affected by ladies, from season to season, to be omitted
from any volume which treats of Fashion. The same facts, indeed, may be
stated of both the Crinoline and the Corset. Both appear to be equally
indispensable to the woman of the present period. To make them
serve the purposes of increased cleanliness, comfort, and grace, not only
without injury to the health, but with positive and admitted advantage
to the physique — these are the problems to be solved by those whose
business it is to minister to the ever-changing taste and fashion of
The Corset: — Origin. Use amongst Savago Tribes and Ancient People. Slenderness of
Waist esteemed in the East, Ceylon, Circassia, Crim Tartary, Hindustan, Persia, China,
Egypt, Palestine Pages 9 to 29
The Corset according to Homer, Terentius. The Strophium of Rome, and the Mitra of
Greece. The Peplus. A Roman Toilet, Bath, and Promenade. General Luxury.
Cleopatra's Jewels. Tight-lacing on the Tiber Pages 30 to 38
Frahkish Fashions. The Monks and the Corset. Corsets worn by Gentlemen as well as
Ladies in the Thirteenth Century. The Kirtle. Small Waists in Scotland. Chaucer on
Small Bodies. The Surcoat. Long Trains. Skirts. Snako-toed Shoes. High-heeled
Slippers Pages 41 to 59
Bonnets. Headdresses. Costumes in the time of Francis I. Pins in France and England.
Masks in France. Puffed Sleeves. Bernaise Dress. Marie Stuart. Long Slender
Waists. Henry III. of France "tight-laces." Austrian Joseph prohibits Stays.
Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth of England. Severe form of Corset. Lawn Ruffs.
Starching. Stuffed Hose. Venice Fashions. Elizabeth's False Hair. Stubs on the
Ladies. James I. affects Fashion. Garters and Shoe-roses. Dagger and Rapier Pages 60 to 91
Louise de Lorraine. Marie de Medici. Distended Skirts. Hair Powder. Hair a Venfant.
Low Dresses. Louis XIV. High Heels. Slender Waists. Siamese Dress. Charles I.
Patches. Elaborate Costumes. Puritan Modes. Tight-lacing and Strait-lacing under
Cromwell. Augsburg Ladies Pages 92 to 104
Louis XV. A ]a Watteau. Barbers. Fasliions under Queen Anne. Diminutive Waists and
Enormous Hoop. The Farthingale. The Guardian. Fashions in 1713. Low Dresses.
Tight Stays. Short Skirts. A Lady's Maid's Accomplishments. Gay and Ben Jonson
on the Bodice and Stays Pages 109 to 123
Stays or Corset. Louis XVI. Dress in 1776. Severe Lacing. Hogarth. French Revo-
lution. Short Waists. Long Trains. Buchan. Jumpers and Garibaldis. Figure-
training. Back-boards and Stocks. Doctors on Stays. George III. Gentlemen's
Stays. The Changes of Fashion. The term Ceinoline not new. South Sea Islanders.
Madame la Sante on Crinoline. Starving and Lacing. Anecdote. Wearing the Corset
during sleep. American Belles. Illusion Waists. Medicus favours moderate tight-
lacing. Ladies' Letters on tight-lacing Pages 124 to 1C4
The Austrian Empress. Viennese Waists. London small-sized Corsets. Correspondence of
The Queen and the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine. Lady Morton. Figure-training.
Corsets for Young Girls. Early use of well-constructed Corsets. The Boarding-School
and the Corset. Letters in praise of tight-lacing. Defence of the Crinoline and the
Corset. The Venus de Medici. Fashionably-dressed Statue. Clumsy Figures. Letter
from a Tight-lacer. A Young Baronet. A Family Man .... Pages 105 to 18G
No elegance without the Corset. Fashion of 1865. Short Waist and Train of 1867. Tight
Corset and Short Waist. A form of French Corset. Proportions of Figure and Waist.
The Point of the Waist. Older Writers on Stays. Denunciations against Small Waists
and High Heels. Alarming Diseases through High Heels. Female Mortality. Corset
Statistics. Modern and Ancient Corset Pages 189 to 201
Front-fastening Stays. Thomson's Corset. Stability of front-fastening Corset. De La
Garde's Corset. Self-measurement. Viennese Bcdresseur Corset. Flimsy Corsets.
Proper Materials. " Minet Back" Corset. Elastic Corsets. Narrow Bands Injurious.
The Corset properly applied produces a graceful figure. The Farthingale Reviewed.
Thomson's Zephyrina Crinoline. Costume of the Present Season. The claims of Nature.
Similitude between the Tahitian Girl and Venetian Lady .... Pages 202 to 224
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
i. The Dawn of tub Corset n
2. Circassian Lady 15
3. Egyptian Lady in Full Skirt 18
4. Persian Dancing Girl 21
5. Egyptian Lady in Narrow Skirt 24
6. Lady of Ancient Greece 32
7. Roman Lady of Rank (Reign of Heliogabalus) 39
8. The Fiend of Fashion, from an Ancient Manuscript 43
9. The Princess Blanche, Daughter of Edward III. 48
10. Lady of Rank of the Thirteenth Century 51
11. Lady of the Court of Queen Catherine de Medici 55
12. Full Court Dress as worn in France, 15 15 58
13. Ladies of Fashion in the Costume of 1380 61
14. Norman Headdress of the Present Day 64
15. Lady of the Court of Charles VIII., 1500 67
16. Lady of the Court of Maximilian of Germany and Francis of France . 70
17. Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Time of Catherine de Medici . . 71
18. Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Open) . 72
19. The Bernaise Headdress, and Costume of Marie Stuart .... 74
20. Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Closed) 76
21. Henry III. of France and the Princess Margaret of Lorraine . . 77
22. Lady of the Court of Queen Elizabeth 80
23. A Venetian Lady of Fashion, 1560 83
24. Queen Elizabeth 86
25. Court Dress during the Boyhood of Louis XIII. 93
26. Marie de Medici 96
27. Fancy Costumes of the Time of Louis XIV 99
Xll LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
28. Siamese Dress worn at the Court of Louis XIV 102
29. Young English Lady of Fashion, 1653 105
30. Fancy Dress worn in the Reign of Louis XV 108
31. Costumes after Watteau m
32. Crinoline in 1713 114
33. Low Bodies and Curtailed Crinoline 117
34. Court Dress of the Reign of Louis XVI 125
35. Classic Costume of the French Revolutionary Period . . . .128
36. Lady of Fashion, 1806 . ■ 131
37. Fashionable Dress in 1824 139
38. Lady of Fashion, 1827 142
39. Lady of Fashion, 1830 145
40. Lady of Fashion, 1837 148
41. The Crinoline of a South Sea Islander 151
42. The Fashion of 1865 188
43. The Fashion of 1867 191
44. Corset, forming both Corset and Stomacher (Front) 197
45. Corset, forming both Corset and Stomacher (Back) 200
46. Common Cheap Stay, Fastened 202
47. Common Cheap Stay, Open 203
48. The Glove-Fitting Corset (Thomson and Co.) 204
49. Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Front) 205
50. Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Back) 208
51. The Redresseur Corset of Vienna (Weiss) 211
52. The Fashion of 1868 222
53. The Zephyrina Jupon (Thomson and Co.) 223
54. Tahitian Dancing Girl and Venetian Lady 224
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
The origin of the Corset — The Indian hunting-belt — Reduction of the figure by the
ancient inhabitants of Polenqui — Use of the Corset by the natives of the Eastern
Archipelago — Improvements in construction brought about by the advance of civilisa-
tion — Slenderness of waist esteemed a great beauty in the East — Earth-eating in
Java — Figure-training in Ceylon — The beauties of Circassia, their slender waists and
Corsets — Elegant princesses of Crim Tartary — Hindoo belles — Hindoo ideas of
beauty — Elegance of figure highly esteemed by the Persians — Letter from a Chinese
gentleman (Woo-tan-zhin) on slender waists — Researches amongst the antiquities of
Egypt — Fashions of the Egyptian ladies — The Corset in use among the Israelitish
ladies — The elegance of their costume, bridal dress, &c. — Scriptural references.
TipOR the origin of the corset we must travel back into far antiquity.
How far it would be difficult to determine. The unreclaimed
savage who, bow in hand, threads the mazes of the primeval forests
in pursuit of the game he subsists on, fashions for himself, from the
skin of some animal which good fortune may have cast in his way, a
belt or girdle from which to suspend his rude knife, quiver, or other
hunting gear ; and experience teaches him that, to answer the purpose
efficiently, it should be moderately broad and sufficiently stiff to prevent
creasing when secured round the waist. A sharpened bone, or fire-
hardened stick, serves to make a row of small holes at each end ; a strip
of tendon, or a thong of hide, forms a lace with which the extremities
are drawn together, thereby giving support to the figure during the
fatigues of the chase. The porcupine's quill, the sea-shell, the wild
beast's tooth, and the cunningly-dyed root, all help to decorate and
ornament the hunting-belt. The well-formed youths and graceful
lO THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
belles of the tribe were not slow in discovering that, when arrayed
in all the panoply of forest finery, a belt well drawn in, as shown in the
annexed illustration, served to display the figure to much greater advan-
tage than one carelessly or loosely adjusted. Here, then, we find the
first indication of the use of the corset as an article of becoming attire.
At the very first dawn of civilisation there are distinct evidences of the
use of contrivances for the reduction and formation of the female figure.
Researches among the ruins of Polenqui,.one of the mysterious forest cities
of South America, whose history is lost in remote antiquity, have brought
to light most singular evidences of the existence of a now forgotten
race. Amongst the works of art discovered there is a bas-relief repre-
senting a female figure, which, in addition to a profusion of massive
ornaments, wears a complicated and elaborate waist-bandage, which,
by a system of circular and transverse folding and looping, confines the
waist from just below the ribs to the hips as firmly and compactly as
the most unyielding corset of the present day.
At the period of the discovery of some of the islands of the
Eastern Archipelago, it was found customary for all young females to
wear a peculiar kind of corset, formed of spirally-arranged rattan
cane, and this, when once put on, was not removed until the celebration
of the marriage ceremony. Such races as were slowly advancing in the
march of civilisation, after discovery by the early navigators, became
more and more accustomed to the use of clothing, to adjust and retain
which, waistbands would become essentially requisite. These, when
made sufficiently broad to fit without undue friction, and stiff enough to
prevent folding together in the act of stooping, sitting, or moving
about, at once became in effect corsets, and suggested to the minds
of the ingenious a system of cutting and fitting so as more perfectly to
adapt them to the figure of the wearer. The modes of fastening, as
we shall see, have been various, from the simple sewing together with
the lace to the costly buckle and jewelled loop and stud.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
Investigation proves to us that the taste for slender waists prevailed
even more in the Eastern nations than in those of Europe, and we find
that other means besides that of compression have been extensively-
taken advantage of. Humboldt, in his personal narrative, describes the
women of Java, and informs us that the reddish clay called " ampo" is
eaten by them in order that they may become slim, want of plumpness
being a kind of beauty in that country. Though the use of this
earth is fatal to health, those desirous of profiting by its reducing
qualities persevere in its consumption. Loss of appetite and inability to
partake of more than most minute portions of food are not slow in
bringing the wished-for consummation about. The inhabitants of
Ceylon make a perfect study of the training of the figure to the most
slender proportions. Books on the subject are common in that country,
and no young lady is considered the perfection of fashionable elegance
unless a great number of qualities and graces are possessed ; not the
least of these is a waist which can be quite or nearly clasped with the
two hands ; and, as we proceed with our work, it will be seen that this
standard for the perfection of waist-measurement has been almost
world-wide. From the coral-fringed and palm-decked islands of the
Pacific and Indian Ocean we have but to travel to the grass-clad Yaila
of Crim Tartary and the rock-crowned fastnesses of Circassia, to see the
same tastes prevailing, and even more potent means in force for the
obtainment of a taper form. Any remarks from us as to the beauty of
the ladies of Circassia would be needless, their claim to that enviable
endowment being too well established to call for confirmation at our
hands, and that no pains are spared in the formation of their figures
will be best seen by a quotation from a recent traveller who writes on
the subject: —
" What would" (he says) " our ladies think of this fashion on the part
of the far-famed beauties of Circassia ? The women wear a corset made of
c morocco,' and furnished with two plates of wood placed on the chest,
14 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
which, by their strong pressure, prevent the expansion of the chest ; this
corset also confines the bust from the collar-bones to the waist by means
of a cord which passes through leather rings. They even wear it
during the night, and only take it off when worn out, to put on another
quite as small." He then speaks of the daughters of Osman Oglow,
and says, " Their figures were tightened in an extraordinary degree, and
their anteries were clasped from the throat downwards by silver plates."
These plates are not only ornamental, but being firmly sewn to the
two busks in front of the corset, and being longest at the top and
narrowest at the waist, when clasped, as shown in the accompanying
illustration, any change in fit or adjustment is rendered impossible. It
will be seen on examination that at each side of the bottom of the
corsage is a large round plate or boss of ornamental silver These
serve as clasps for the handsomely-mounted silver waist-belt, and by
their size and position serve to contrast with the waist, and make it
appear extremely small. That the elegancies of female attire have been
deeply studied even among the Tartars of the Crimea will be seen by
the following account, written by Madame de Hell, of her visit to
Princess Adel Beg, a celebrated Tartar beauty : —
" Admitted into a fairy apartment looking out on a terraced garden,
a curtain was suddenly raised at the end of the room, and a woman of
striking beauty entered, dressed in rich costume. She advanced to me
with an air of remarkable dignity, took both my hands, kissed me on
the two cheeks, and sat down beside me, making many demonstrations
of friendship. She wore a great deal of rouge ; her eyelids were painted
black, and met over the nose, giving her countenance a certain sternness,
which, nevertheless, did not destroy its pleasing effect. A furred velvet
vest fitted tight to her still elegant figure, and altogether her appear-
ance surpassed what I had conceived of her beauty. After some time,
when I offered to go, she checked me with a very graceful gesture, and
said eagerly, ' Pastoi, pastoi,' which is Russian for ' Stay, stay,' and
Egyptian Lady in Full Skirt.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 9
clapped her hands several times. A young girl entered at the signal,
and by her mistress's orders threw open a folding-door, and immediately
I was struck dumb with surprise and admiration by a most brilliant
apparition. Imagine, reader, the most exquisite sultanas of whom
poetry and painting have ever tried to convey an idea, and still your
conception will fall far short of the enchanting models I had then before
me. There were three of them, all equally graceful and beautiful.
They were clad in tunics of crimson brocade, adorned in front with
broad gold lace. The tunics were open, and disclosed beneath them
cashmere robes with very tight sleeves, terminating in gold fringes.
The youngest wore a tunic of azure-blue brocade, with silver ornaments ;
this was the only difference between her dress and that of her sisters.
All three had magnificent black hair escaping in countless tresses from a
fez of silver filigree, set like a diadem over their ivory foreheads.
They wore gold-embroidered slippers and wide trousers drawn close at
the ankle. I had never beheld skins so dazzlingly fair, eyelashes so
long, or so delicate a bloom of youth."
The Hindoos subject the figures of their dancing-girls and future
belles to a system of very careful training ; in all their statues, from those
of remote antiquity, to be seen in the great cave temples of Carlee Elanra,
and Elephanta, to those of comparatively modern date, the long and
slender waist is invariably associated with other attributes of their
standard of beauty. "Thurida," the daughter of Brahama, is thus
described by a Hindoo writer : —
"This girl" (he informs us) "was of a yellow colour, and had a nose
like the flower of resamum ; her legs were taper, like the plantain tree ;
her eyes large, like the principal leaf of the lotus ; her eyebrows ex-
tended to her ears ; her lips were red, and like the young leaves of the
mango tree ; her face was like the full moon.; her voice like the sound
of the cuckoo ; her arms reached to her knees ; her throat was like that
of a pigeon ; her loins narrow, like those of a lion ; her hair hung in
20 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
curls down to her feet ; her teeth were like the seeds of the pome-
granate ; and walk like that of a drunken elephant or a goose."
The Persians entertain much the same notions with regard to the
necessity for slenderness of form in the belles of their nation, but differ in
other matters from the Hindoos. The following illustration represents a
dancing-girl of Persia, and it will be seen that her figure bears no
indication of neglect of cultivation. It is somewhat curious that the
Chinese, with all their extraordinary ingenuity, have confined their
restrictive efforts to the feet of the ladies, leaving their waists unconfined.
That their doing so is more the result of long-established custom than
absence of admiration for elegantly-proportioned figures will be clearly
proved by the following extract from a letter published in Chambers*
Journal, written by a genuine inhabitant of the Celestial Empire,
named Woo-tan-zhin, who paid a visit to England in 1844-45. Thus
he describes the ladies of England : —
" Their eyes, having the blue tint of the waters of autumn, are
charming beyond description, and their waists are laced as tight and thin
as a willow branch. What, perhaps, caught my fancy most was the
sight of elegantly-dressed young ladies, with pearl-like necks and tight-
laced waists ; nothing can possibly be so enchanting as to see ladies that
compress themselves into taper forms of the most exquisite shape, the
like of which I have never seen before."
By many writers it has been urged that the admiration so generally
felt for slenderly-proportioned and taper waists results from an artificial
taste set up by long custom; but in Woo-tan-zhin's case it was
clearly not so, as the small-waisted young ladies of the "outer
barbarians" were to him much as some new and undescribed flowers or
birds would be to the wondering naturalist who first beheld them.
Although researches among the antiquities of Egypt and Thebes
fail to bring to our notice an article of dress corresponding with the
waist-bandage of Polenqui or the strophium of later times, we find
Persian D.vxcixg Girt.
Egyptian Lady in Narrow Skirt.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
elaborately-ornamented waistbelts in general use, and by their arrange-
ment it will be seen that they were so worn as to show the waist off to
the best advantage. The accompanying illustrations represent Egyptian
ladies of distinction. The dress in the first, it will be observed, is worn
long. A sort of transparent mantle covers and gives an appearance
of width to the shoulders, whilst a coloured sash, after binding the
waist, is knotted in front, and the ends allowed to fall freely over the
front of the dress, much as we have seen it worn in our own time ; and
it is most remarkable that, although there is no evidence to show the use
of crinoline by the ladies of old Egypt, the lower border of the skirt, in
some instances, appears distended as in the prior illustration ; whilst in
others, as shown in the second engraving, the dress is made to fit the
lower portion of the figure closely, barely affording scope for the movement
of the legs in walking. How often these arrangements of dress have
been in turn adopted and discarded will be seen as our work proceeds.
The following extract from Fullam will show that Fashion within the
shadow of the Pyramids, in the days of the Pharaohs, reigned with
power as potent and supreme as that which she exercises in the imperial
palaces of Paris and Vienna at the present day : —
"The women of Egypt early paid considerable attention to their
toilet. Their dress, according to Herodotus, consisted usually of but
one garment, though a second was often added. Among the upper
orders the favourite attire was a petticoat tied round the waist with a
gay sash, and worn under a robe of fine linen or a sort of chintz
variously coloured, and made large and loose, with wide sleeves, the
band being fastened in front just under the bust. Their feet were
incased in sandals, the rudiment of the present Eastern slipper, which
they resembled also in their embroidery and design. Their persons and
apparel, in conformity with Oriental taste in all ages, were profusely
decked with ornaments, 'jewels of silver and jewels of gold,' with
precious gems of extraordinary size, of which imitations, hardly dis-
26 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
tinguishable from the real stones, were within the reach of the humblest
classes, whose passion for finery could not be surpassed by their superiors.
The richly carved and embroidered sandals, tied over the instep with
tassels of gold, were surmounted by gold anklets or bangles, which, as
well as the bracelets encircling the wrist, sparkled with rare gems ; and
necklaces of gold or of beautiful beads, with a pendant of amethysts or
pearls, hung from the neck. Almost every finger was jewelled, and the
ring finger in particular was usually allotted several rings, while massive
earrings shaped like hoops, or sometimes taking the form of a jewelled
asp or of a dragon, adorned the ears. Gloves were used at a very early
date, and among the other imperishable relics of that olden time the
tombs of Egypt have rendered up to us a pair of striped linen mittens,
which once covered the hands of a Theban lady.
" Women of quality inclosed their hair with a band of gold, from which
a flower drooped over the forehead, while the hair fell in long plaits to
the bosom, and behind streamed down the back to the waist. The side
hair was secured by combs made of polished wood or by a gold pin, and
perhaps was sometimes adorned, like the brow, with a favourite flower.
The toilet was furnished with a brazen mirror, polished to such a degree
as to reflect every lineament of the face, and the belles of Egypt, as
ladies of the present day may imagine, spent no small portion of their
time with this faithful counsellor. The boudoirs were not devoid of an
air of luxury and refinement particularly congenial to a modern imagina-
tion. A stand near the unglazed window supported vases of flowers,
which filled the room with delicious odours; a soft carpet overspread
the floor; two or three richly-carved chairs and. an embroidered
fauteuil afforded easy and inviting seats ; and the lotus and papyrus
were frescoed on the walls. Besides the brazen mirror, other acces-
sories of the toilet were arranged on the ebony table, and boxes and
caskets grotesquely carved, some containing jewels, others furnished
with oils and ointments, took their place with quaintly-cut smelling-
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
bottles, wooden combs, silver or bronze bodkins, and lastly, pins and
" Seated at this shrine, the Egyptian beauty, with her dark glance
fixed on the brazen mirror, sought to heighten those charms which are
always most potent in their native simplicity. A touch of collyrium
gave illusive magnitude to her voluptuous eyes ; another cosmetic
stained their lids ; a delicate brush pencilled her brows — sometimes,
alas ! imparted a deceitful bloom to her cheeks ; and her taper fingers
were coloured with the juice of henna. Precious ointments were
poured on her hair, and enveloped her in an atmosphere of perfume,
while the jeweller's and milliner's arts combined to decorate her
In Sir Gardner Wilkinson's admirable work on ancient Egypt, to
which I am indebted for some valuable information, there is a plate
representing a lady in a bath with her attendants, drawn from a
sculpture in a tomb at Thebes, whence we may derive some faint idea
of the elaborate character of an Egyptian toilet.
The lady is seated in a sort of pan, with her long hair streaming
over her shoulders, and is supported by the arm of an attendant, who,
with her other hand, holds a flower to her nose, while another damsel
pours water over her head, and a third washes and rubs down her
delicate arms. A fourth maiden receives her jewels, and deposits
them on a stand, where she awaits the moment when they will be again
There appears little doubt that the ancient Israelitish ladies, amongst
their almost endless and most complex articles of adornment, numbered
the corset in a tolerably efficient form, and of attractive and rich
material, for we read in the twenty-fourth verse of the third chapter of
Isaiah, referring to Divine displeasure manifested against the people of
Jerusalem and Judah, and the taking away of matters of personal
adornment from the women, that " instead of a girdle there should be a
28 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
rent, and instead of well-set hair baldness, and instead of a stomacher
a girding of sackcloth, and burning instead of beauty." Here we have
the coarse, repulsive, unattractive sackcloth held up in marked contrast
to the stomacher, which was without question a garment on which much
attention was bestowed ; and the following extract from Fullam's History
of Woman shows how costly and magnificent was the costume of the
period : —
"The bridal dress of a princess or Jewish lady of rank, whose
parents possessed sufficient means, was of the most sumptuous descrip-
tion, as may be seen from the account given of that worn by the bride
of Solomon in the Canticles, and the various articles enumerated show
the additions which feminine taste had already made to the toilet. The
body was now clothed in a bodice ascending to the network which
inclosed, rather than concealed, the swelling bust ; and jewelled clasps
and earrings, with strings of pearls and chains of gold, gave a dazzling
effect to Oriental beauty. In Solomon's reign silk is said to have been
added to the resources of the toilet, and the sex owe to a sister,
Pamphyla, the daughter of Patous, the discovery of this exquisite
material, in which woman wrested from Nature a dress worthy of her
" The ordinary attire of Jewish women was made of linen, usually
white, without any intermixture of colours, though, in accordance with
the injunction in Numbers xv. 38, they made 'fringes in the borders of
their garments,' and ' put upon the fringe of the borders a riband of
blue.' Judith, when she sought to captivate Holofernes, ' put on her
garments of gladness, wherewith she was clad during the life of
Manasses her husband; and she took sandals upon her feet, and put
about her bracelets, and her chains, and her rings, and her earrings, and
all her ornaments, and decked herself bravely to allure the eyes of all
men that should see her.' Gemmed bangles encircled her ankles,
attracting the glance to her delicate white feet ; and Holofernes, by an
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Oriental figure of speech, is said to have been ' ravished by the beauty
of her sandals.' Like the belles of Egypt she did not disdain, in setting
off her charms, to have recourse to perfumes and cosmetics, and
previously to setting out she ' anointed herself with precious ointment.'
In another place Jezebel is said to c paint her eyelids ;' and Solomon, in
the Proverbs, in describing the deceitful woman, adjures his son not to
be * taken with her eyelids,' evidently alluding to the use of collyrium.
The Jewish beauty owed no slight obligation to her luxuriant tresses,
which were decorated with waving plumes and strings of pearls ; and
in allusion to this custom, followed among the tribes from time imme-
morial, St. Paul affirms that ' a woman's ornament is her hair.' Judith
' braided the hair of her head and put a tire upon it ;' and the headdress
of Pharaoh's daughter, in the Canticles, is compared by Solomon to
Carmel. No mention is made of Judith's mirror, but it was undoubtedly
made of brass, like those described in Exodus xxxviii. 8 as ' the
looking-glasses of the women which assembled at the door of the
tabernacle of the congregation.' "
30 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
Homer the first ethnic writer who speaks of an article of dress allied to the Corset — The
cestus or girdle of Venus — Terentius, the Roman dramatist, and his remarks on the
practice of tight-lacing — The use of the strophium by the ladies of Rome, and the
mitra of the Grecian belles— The peplus as worn by the ancients — Toilet of a Roman
lady of fashion — Roman baths — Fashionable promenades of Ancient Rome — Bound-
less luxury and extravagance — Cleopatra and her jewels — The taper waists and tight-
lacing of the ancient Roman ladies — Conquest of the Roman Empire.
A MONGST the ethnic writers, Homer appears to be the first who
describes an article of female dress closely allied to the corset. He
tells us of the cestus or girdle of Venus, mother of the Loves and Graces,
and of the haughty Juno, who was fabled to have borrowed it with a
view to the heightening and increasing her personal attractions, in order
that Jupiter might become a more tractable and orderly husband. The
poet attributes most potent magical virtues to the cestus, but these are
doubtlessly used in a figurative sense, and Juno, in borrowing the cestus,
merely obtained from a lady of acknowledged elegance of figure a
corset with which to set her own attractions off to the best possible
advantage, so that her husband might be charmed with her improved
appearance ; and Juno appears to have been a very far-seeing and
sensible woman. From periods of very remote antiquity, and with the
gradual increase of civilisation, much attention appears to have been
paid to the formation and cultivation of the female figure, and much the
same means were had recourse to for the achievement of the same end
prior to 560 B.C. as in the year 1868. Terentius, the Roman dramatist,
who was born in the year 560, causes one of his characters, in speaking
of the object of his affections, to exclaim —
" This pretty creature isn't at all like our town ladies, whose mothers
Lady of Ancient Greece.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. $3
saddle their backs and straitlace their waists to make them well-shaped.
If any chance to grow a little plumper than the rest, they presently cry,
* She's an hostess,' and then her allowance must be shortened, and though
she be naturally fat and lusty, yet by her dieting she is made as
slender as a broomstick. By this means one woodcock or another is
caught in their springe."
Strutt informs us that the Roman women, married as well as
unmarried, used girdles, and besides them they sometimes wore a broad
swath or bandage round their breasts, called strophium, which seems to
have answered the purpose of the bodice or stays, and had a buckle or
bandage on the left shoulder, and that the mitra or girdle of the Greeks
probably resembled the strophium of the Romans. The annexed
illustration represents a lady of Ancient Greece. He also speaks of
the Muses as being described by Hesiod as being girt with golden
"mitres" and goes on to inform us that Theocritus in one of his
pastorals introduces a damsel complaining to a shepherd of his rudeness,
saying he had loosened her mitra or girdle, and tells her he means to
dedicate the same to Venus. So it will be seen that the waist and its
adornment were considered at that early period of the world's history
matters of no ordinary importance, and whether the term strophium,
zone, mitra, custula, stays, bodice, or corset is made use of, the end
sought to be obtained by their aid was the same.
Constant mention is made by early writers of the peplus as being a
very elegant garment, and there are notices of it as far back as the
Trojan war, and the ladies of Troy appear to have generally worn it.
On the authority of Strutt, it may be stated to have been " a thin light
mantle worn by Grecian ladies above the tunic ;" and we read that
Antinous presented to Penelope a beautiful large and variegated
peplus, having twelve buckles of gold, with tongues neatly curved.
The peplus, however, was a very splendid part of the lady's dress, and
it is rarely mentioned by Homer without some epithet to distinguish it
as such. He calls it the variegated peplus and the painted peplus,
alluding to ornamental decorations either interwoven or worked with the
needle upon it, which consisted not only in diversity of colours, but of
flowers, foliage, and other kinds of imagery, and sometimes he styles it
the soft purple peplus, which was then valuable on account of the excel-
lence of the colour. We learn from a variety of sources that the early
Roman and Grecian ladies indulged in almost unprecedented luxury in
matters of personal adornment, as the following extract from Fullam
will show : —
"The toilet of a Roman lady involved an elaborate and very costly
process. It commenced at night, when the face, supposed to have been
tarnished by exposure, was overlaid with a poultice, composed of boiled
or moistened flour spread on with the fingers. Poppaean unguents
sealed the lips, and the body was profusely rubbed with Cerona oint-
ment. In the morning the poultice and unguents were washed off; a
bath of asses' milk imparted a delicate whiteness to the skin, and the
pale face was freshened and revived with enamel. The full eyelids,
which the Roman lady still knows so well how to use — now suddenly
raising them, to reveal a glance of surprise or of melting tenderness?
now letting them drop like a veil over the lustrous eyes — the full,
rounded eyelids were coloured within, and a needle dipped in jetty dye
gave length and sphericity to the eyebrows. The forehead was encircled
by a wreath or fillet fastened in the luxuriant hair which rose in front
in a pyramidal pile formed of successive ranges of curls, and giving the
appearance of more than ordinary height.
" ' So high she builds her head, she seems to be,
View her in front, a tall Andromache ;
But walk all round her, and you'll quickly find
She's not so great a personage behind.'
" Roman ladies frequented the public baths, and it was not unusual
for dames of the highest rank to resort to these lavatories in the dead
hour of the night. Seated in a palanquin or sedan borne by sturdy
chairmen, and preceded by slaves bearing flambeaux, they made their
way through the deserted streets, delighted to arouse and alarm their
neighbours. A close chair conveyed the patrician matron to the spec-
tacles and shows, to which she always repaired in great state, surrounded
by her servants and slaves, the dependants of her husband, and the
clients of her house, all wearing the badge of the particular faction she
espoused. The factions of the circus were four in number, and were
distinguished by their respective colours of blue, green, white, and red,
to which Domitian, who was a zealous patron of the Circensian games,
added the less popular hues of gold and purple. But the spectators
generally attached themselves either to the blue or the green, and the
latter was the chief favourite, numbering among its adherents emperors
and empresses, senators, knights, and noble dames, as well as the great
mass of the people, who, when their champions were defeated, carried
their partisanship to such an extreme that the streets were repeatedly
deluged with the blood of the blues, and more than once the safety of
the state was imperilled by these disgraceful commotions.
"The public walks and gardens were a fashionable resort of the
Roman ladies. There they presented themselves in rich costume, which
bore testimony alike to the wealth of their husbands and their own taste.
A yellow tire or hood partly covered, but did not conceal, their piled
hair; their vest of muslin or sarcenet, clasped with gems, was draped
with a murry-coloured robe descending to their high-heeled Greek
boots ; necklaces of emerald hung from their swan-like necks, and
jewelled earrings from their ears ; diamonds glittered on their fingers,
and their dazzling complexions were shielded from the sun by a parasol."
The researches of Strutt show us that the shoes of the ladies, and
especially among the Romans, proved a very expensive part of the dress.
In general they were white, but persons of opulence did not confine
themselves to any colour. We find them black, scarlet, purple, yellow,
$6 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
and green. They were often not only richly adorned with fringes and
embroideries of gold, but set with pearls and precious stones of the most
costly kind, and these extravagances were not confined to persons of rank.
They were imitated by those of lower station, and became so prevalent at
the commencement of the third century, that even the luxurious Emperor
Heliogabalus thought it necessary to publish an edict prohibiting the use
of such expensive shoes excepting to women of quality. The women
wore the close shoe or calceus. Gloves, too, as we have seen before,
were known and used in very early ages, and it appears probable that
they were first devised by those whose labours called them to the thick-
tangled thorn coverts, but that they were worn by those who did not
labour is clearly proved by Homer, who describes the father of Ulysses
when living in a state of rest as wearing gloves ; but he gives us no
information as to the material from which they were manufactured. The
Romans appear to have been much more addicted to the practice of
wearing gloves than the Greeks, and we are informed that " under the
emperors they were made with fringes," though others were without
them, and were fashioned much after the manner of the mittens of the
present day. Further on we learn that " as riches and luxury increased,
the lady's toilet was proportionately filled with ornaments for the person,
so that it was called ' the woman's world.'' " They not only anointed
the hair and used rich perfumes, but sometimes they painted it. They
also made it appear of a bright yellow colour by the assistance of washes
and compositions made for that purpose ; but they never used powder,
which is a much later invention. They frizzled and curled the hair with
hot irons, and sometimes they raised it to a great height by rows of curls
one above another in the form of a helmet, and such as had not sufficient
hair of their own used false hair to complete the lofty pile, and these
curls appear to have been fashioned with hairpins. The Grecian
virgins used to braid their hair in a multiplicity of knots, but that custom,
as well as painting the under part of the eyelids with black paint, was
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discommended by an ancient poet. Persons of rank had slaves to
perform for them the offices of the toilet. They held the mirror in
their hand themselves and gave directions, and Martial tells us that, if the
slaves unfortunately placed a hairpin wrong, or omitted to twist the
curls exactly as they were ordered, the mirror was thrown at the
offender's head, or, according to Juvenal, the whip was applied with
much severity. The hair was adorned with ornaments of gold, with
pearls and precious stones, and sometimes with garlands or chaplets of
flowers. It was also bound with fillets and ribbons of various colours
and kinds. The net or hair-caul for the purpose of inclosing the
hinder part of the hair was in general use with the Grecian and Roman
ladies. These ornaments were frequently enriched with embroidery,
and sometimes made so thin that Martial sarcastically called them
Again, in the matter of earrings, we quote from the same valuable
and trustworthy authority. No adornment of the head claims priority
to earrings. They have been fashionable, as Montfaucon justly observes,
in all ages and almost all nations. It is evident from Homer that the
Grecian women bored their ears for the admission of these ornaments.
The poet gives earrings to the goddess Juno, and the words he uses on
the occasion are literally these : — " In her well-perforated ears she put the
earrings of elaborate workmanship, having three eyes in each" — that is,
three pendants or jewels, either made in the form of eyes, or so called
from their brightness. The extravagance of the Grecian and Roman
ladies in the purchase of these articles of adornment almost exceeds
belief. Pliny says, "They seek for pearls at the bottom of the Red
Sea, and search the bowels of the earth for emeralds to ornament their
ears ;" and Seneca tells us that " a single pair of earrings was worth
the revenue of a large estate, and that some women would wear at their
ears the price of two or three patrimonies." We read that the earrings
worn by Cleopatra were valued at £161,458, and that Servilia, the
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mother of Brutus, was presented with a pair by Julius Cassar, the value
of which was £48,457,
Bracelets are also ornaments of high antiquity, as are rings and
brooches of various forms for fastening the dress.
Rich gold chains and jewelled fastenings were in common use during
this period. The annexed illustration represents a Roman lady of
rank about the reign of Heliogabalus. Little alteration appears to have
taken place in the general style of costume for some very considerable
period of time, and the patrician ladies concealed beneath their flowing
draperies a kind of corset, which they tightened very considerably, for a
slight and tapering waist was looked upon as a great beauty in women,
and great attention was paid to the formation of the figure, in spite of
all that has been written about the purely natural and statuesque forms
of the Roman matrons. On the conquest of the Roman Empire by the
wild and savage Hunnish tribes, fashion, art, taste, literature, and civilisa-
tion were swept ruthlessly away, and a long, weird night of mental
darkness may be said to have reigned throughout the land from the
tenth to the middle of the fifteenth century, and we see little or nothing
of Roman elegance or magnificence of dress to distinguish it above other
nations from that period.
Roman Lady of Rank (Reign of BLeliogabalus).
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The ladies of Old France — Their fashions during the reign of King Pepin — Revival of the
taste for small waists — Introduction of " cottes hardies'''' — Monkish satire on the Corset
in England in the year IO43, curious MS. relating to — The small waists of the
thirteenth century — The ancient poem of Launfal — The Lady Tiiamore, daughter
of the King of the Fairies — Curious entry in the household register of Eleanor,
Countess of Leicester, date 1265 — Corsets worn by gentlemen at that period — The
kirtle as worn in England — The penance of Jane Shore — Dress of Blanche, daughter
of Edward III — Dunbar's Thistle and Rose — Admiration for small waists in Scot-
land in the olden time — Chaucer's writings — Small waists admired in his day — The
use of the surcoat in England — Reckless hardihood of a determined tailor — The
surcoat worn by Mane d'Anjou of France — Italian supremacy in matters of dress —
The Medici, Este, and Visconti — Costume of an Italian duchess desc.ib.d - Freaks
of fashion in France and Germany — Long trains — Laws to restrain the length of
skirts — Snake-toed shoes give place to high-heeled slippers.
"O ESEARCH fails to show us that the ladies of France in their simple
Hersvingian and Carlovingian dresses paid any attention to the
formation of the waist or its display. But during the ninth century we
find the dresses worn extremely tight, and so made as to define the waist
and render it as slim as possible ; and although the art of making the
description of corsets worn by the ladies of Rome was no doubt at that
time lost, the revived taste for slender figures led to the peculiar form of
corsage known as cottes bardies, which were much stiffened and worn
extremely tight. These took the place of the quaint, oddly-formed
robes we see draping the figures of Childeric's and Pepin's queens. The
" cottes hardies" were, moreover, clasped at the waist by a broad belt, and
seem pretty well to have merited their martial name. Very soon after
this period it is probable that a much more complete description of
corset was invented, although we do not find any marked representation
of its form until 1043. A manuscript of that date at present in the
42 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
British Museum bears on it the strange and anomalous figure represented
in the annexed illustration. Opinions vary somewhat as to whether
its origin might not have been Italian, but we see no reason for adopting
this view, and consider it as of decidedly home production. It will be
seen that the shoulder, upper part of the arm, and figure are those of a
well-formed female, who wears an unmistakable corset, tightly laced, and
stiffened by two busks in front, from one of which the lace, with a tag
at the end, depends. The head, wings, tail, feet, and claws are all those
of a demon or fiend. The drapery is worn so long as to render large
knots in it requisite to prevent dragging on the ground. The ring held
in the left claw is of gold, and probably intended to represent a massive
and costly bracelet. Produced, as this MS. appears to have been,
during the reign of Edward the Confessor, there is little doubt that
it was a severe monkish satire on the prevailing fashion, and a most
ungallant warning to the male sex that alabaster shoulders and slender
waists were too often associated with attributes of a rather brimstone
character, and that an inordinate love of long, trailing garments and
ornaments of precious metals were snares and enticements of a sinister
nature. Many of the figures to be found on ancient MSS. after this
period show by their contour that the corset was worn beneath the
drapery, and Strutt, whose work was published in 1796, thus writes of
the customs relating to dress in the period following shortly after : — " In
the thirteenth century, and probably much prior to that period, a long
and slender waist was considered by our ancestors as a criterion of
elegance in the female form. We ought not, therefore, to wonder if it
be proved that the tight lacing and compressing of the body was
practised by the ladies even in early times, and especially by such
of them as were inclined to be corpulent." He then, in order to
show at vhat an early date of the history of this country a confirmed
taste for small waists existed, quotes from a very ancient poem, entitled
Launfal, in which the Lady Triamore, daughter of the King of the
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 45
Fairies, and attendant ladies are described. Of two of the latter it
is said —
" Their kittles were of rede cendel,*
I laced smalle, jollyf, and well,'
There might none gayer go."
In the French version of the same poem it is, we read, more fully
expressed. It says, "They were richly habited and very tightly laced."
The Lady Triamore is thus described : — -
" The lady was in a purple pall,
With gentill bodye and middle small."
Wharton quotes from an ancient poem, which he believes to date as
far back as 1200, in which a lover, speaking of the object of his
admiration, thus throws down the gauntlet of challenge, and exclaims —
" Middle her she hath mensk small."
The word mensk or maint being used instead of very or much. Some
differences of opinion have existed among writers as to the origin of the
word corset. Some are of opinion that the French words corps, the
body, and serrer (to tightly inclose or incase), led to the adoption of
the term. Madame La Sante gives it as her opinion, however, that it is
more probably a corruption of the single word corps, which was formerly
written cors, and may be taken as a diminutive form of it. Another
view of the matter has been that the name of a rich material called
corse, which was at one time extensively used in the manufacture of
corsets, may have been thus corrupted. This is scarcely probable, as
the word corset was in use at too early a period to admit of that origin.
Perhaps as early an instance of the use of the term corset as any in
existence may be found as a portion of an entry in the household register
of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, which bears the date May 24, 1265 : —
* A rich description of silk.
" Item : Pro ix ulnis radii. Pariensis pro robas cestivas corsetto et clochia
The persons for whom these garments were made were Richard,
King of the Normans, and Edward, his son, whose death occurred in the
year 1308. So that corsets were, even in those early days, used by
gentlemen as well as ladies.
The term kirtle, so often referred to, may not clearly convey to the
mind of the modern reader the nature of the garment indicated by it,
and therefore it may not be amiss to give Strutt's description of it. He
says, " The kirtle, or, as it was anciently written * kertel? is a part of the
dress used by the men and the women, but especially by the latter. It
was sometimes a habit of state, and worn by persons of high rank." The
garment sometimes called a " surcol" Chaucer renders kirtle, and we
have no reason to dispute his authority. Kirtles are very frequently
mentioned in old romances. They are said to have been of different
textures and of different colours, but especially of green ; and sometimes
they were laced closely to the body, and probably answered the purpose
of the bodice or stays — vide Launfal, before referred to : —
" Their kirtles were of rede cendel,
I laced smalle, jollyf, and well."
To appear in a kirtle only seems to have been a mark of servitude.
Thus the lady of Sir Ladore, when he feasted the king, by way of
courtesy waited at the table —
" The lady was gentyll and small,
In kirtle alone she served in hall."
We are further informed that at the close of the fifteenth century it
was used as a habit of penance, and we read that Jane Shore, when
performing penance, walked barefoot, a lighted taper in her hand, and
* Item : For nine ells, Paris measure, for summer robes, corsets, and cloaks for the same.
The Princess Blanche, Daughter of Edward III.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 49
having only her kirtle upon her back. John Gower, however, who
wrote at about the same period as Chaucer, thus describes a company of
ladies. They were, says he, " clothed all alike, in kirtles with rich capes
or mantles, parti-coloured, white, and blue, embroidered all over with
various devices." Their bodies are described as being long and small,
and they had crowns of gold upon their heads, as though each of them
had been a queen. We find that the tight-laced young ladies of the
court of the Lady Triamore "had mantles of green-coloured velvet,
handsomely bordered with gold, and lined with rich furs. Their heads
were neatly attired in kerchiefs, and were ornamented with cut work and
richly-striped wires of gold, and upon their kerchiefs they had each of
them a pretty coronal, embellished with sixty gems or more ;" and of
their pretty mistress it is said in the same poem, that her cheeks were as
red as the rose when it first blossoms. Her hair shone upon her head
like golden wire, falling beneath a crown of gold richly ornamented with
precious stones. Her vesture was purple, and her mantle, lined with white
ermine, was also elegantly furred with the same. The Princess Blanche,
the daughter of Edward III., the subject of the annexed illustration,
appears to have copied closely the dress above described, and, like the
maids of honour of the Lady Triamore herself, she is not only richly
habited but thoroughly well-laced as well. Thus we see, in the year
1 36 1, the full influence of the corset on the costume of that period.
There is another poem, said to be more ancient than even Launfal,
which, no doubt, served to give a tone and direction s to the fashions of
times following after. Here we find a beautiful lady described as
wearing a splendid girdle of beaten gold, embellished with rubies and
emeralds, about her middle small.
Gower, too, when describing a lover who is in the act of admiring
his mistress, thus writes : —
" He seeth hir shape forthwith, all
Hir bodye round, hir middle small."
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
That the taste for slender figures was not confined to England will be
shown by the following quotation from Dunbar's Thistle and Rose.
When the belles of Scotland grouped together are described he tells
" Their middles were as small as wands."
A great number of ancient writings descriptive of female beauty go
clearly to prove that both slenderness and length of waist were held in
the highest esteem and considered indispensable elements of elegance,
and there can be no question that such being the case no pains were
spared to acquire the coveted grace a very small, long, and round
waist conferred on its possessor. The lower classes were not slow in
imitating their superiors, and the practice of tight lacing prevailed
throughout every grade of society. This was the case even as far back
as Chaucer's day, about 1340. He, in describing the carpenter's wife,
speaks of her as a handsome, well-made young female, and informs us
that " her body was genteel" (or elegant) and " small as a weasel," and
immediately afterwards that she was
" Long as a maste, and upright as a bolt."
Notwithstanding the strict way in which the waist was laced during
the thirteenth century, the talents of the ingenious were directed to the
construction of some article of dress which should reduce the figure to
still more slender proportions, and the following remarks by Strutt show
that tight lacing was much on the increase from the thirteenth to the
fourteenth centuries. He says — ■
" A small waist was decidedly, as we have seen before, one criterion
of a beautiful form, and, generally speaking, its length was currently regu-
lated by a just idea of elegance, and especially in the thirteenth century.
In the fourteenth the women seem to have contracted a vitiated taste,
and not being content with their form as God hath made it, introduced
Lady of Rank of the Thirteenth Century.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 53
the corset or bodice — a stiff and unnatural disguisement even in its
How far this newly-introduced form of the corset became a " dis-
guisement" will be best judged of by a glance at the foregoing illustration,
which represents a lady in the dress worn just at the close of the
thirteenth century. The term surcoat was given, to this new introduc-
tion. This in many instances was worn over the dress somewhat after
the manner of the body of a riding-habit, being attached to the skirt,
which spreads into a long trailing train. An old author, speaking of
these articles of dress, thus writes : —
"There came to me two women wearing sure oats, longer than they
were tall by about a yard, so that they were obliged to carry their
trains upon their arms to prevent their trailing upon the ground, and
they had sleeves to these surcoats reaching to the elbows."
The trains of these dresses at length reached such formidable dimen-
sions that Charles V. of France became so enraged as to cause an edict
to be issued hurling threats of excommunication at the heads of all
those who dared to wear a dress which terminated " like the tail of a
Notwithstanding this tremendously alarming threat, a tailor was found
fully equal to the occasion, who, in spite of the terrors inspired by
candle, bell, and book, set to work (lion-hearted man that he was) and
made a magnificent surcoat for Madame du Gatinais, which not only
trailed far behind on the ground, but actually " took jive yards of Brussels
net for sleeves, which also trailed" History, or even tradition, fails to
inform us what dreadful fate overtook this desperate tailor after the
performance of a feat so recklessly daring ; but we can scarcely fancy
that his end could have been of the kind common to tailors of less
The bodies of these surcoats were very much stiffened, and so
made as to admit of being laced with extreme tightness. They were
often very richly ornamented with furs and. costly needlework. As
fashion changed, dresses were made with open fronts, so as to be worn
over the surcoat without altogether concealing it. A portrait of Marie
d'Anjou, Queen of France, shows this arrangement of costume. The waist
appears very tightly laced, and the body of the surcoat much resembles the
modern bodice, but is made by stiffening and cut to perform the part of
a very strong and efficient corset. Until the termination of the fourteenth
century very little change appears to have been made either in costume or
the treatment of the figure, but at the commencement of the fifteenth
century, when such noble families as the Medici, Este, and Visconti
established fashions and styles of costume for themselves, each house
vied with the other in the splendour of their apparel. The great
masters of the period, by painting ideal compositions, also gave a marked
tone to the increasing taste for dress. The costume of an Italian duchess,
whose portrait is to be seen in the Academy at Pisa, has been thus
described : — " The headdress is a gold coronet, the chemisette is finely
interwoven with gold, the under-dress is black, the square bodice being
bordered with white beads, the over-dress is gold brocade, the sides are
open, and fastened together again with gold agrafes; the loose sleeves,
like the chemisette, are of golden tissue, fastened to the shoulders with
agrafes. The under-sleeves, which are of peculiar construction, and are
visible, are crimson velvet, and reach to the centre of the hand. They
are cut out at the wrists, and white puffings of the same material as
the chemisette protrude through the openings." In both France and
Germany a great many strange freaks of fashion appear to have been
practised about this time. The tight, harlequin-like dress was adopted
by the gentlemen, whilst the long trains again stirred the ire of royalty.
We find Albert of Saxony issuing the following laws : — " No wives or
daughters of knights are to wear dresses exceeding one yard and a-half
in length, no spangles in their caps, nor high frills round their throats."
During the reign of the Dauphin in France many changes in dress were
Lady of the Court of Queen Catherine de Medici.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
effected. The length of the sleeves was much curtailed, and the
preposterously long toes of the shoes reduced to a convenient standard.
The ladies appear to have for some time resisted the innovation, but one
Poulaine, an ingenious Parisian shoemaker, happening to devise a very
attractive shoe with a heel fitted to it, the ladies hailed joyfully the
new favourite, and the old snake-toed shoe passed away. Still, it was
no uncommon thing to see some fop of the period with one shoe white
and the other black, or one boot and one shoe.
60 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
The bonnet a canon and sugarloaf headdress — Headdress of the women of Normandy at
the present day — Odd dress of King Louis XI. — Return of Charles VIII. from
Naples — A golden time for tailors and milliners — General change of fashion —
Costumes of the time of Francis I. of France and Maximilian of Germany —
General use of pins in France and England — Masks worn in France — Establishment
of the empire of Fashion in France — The puffed or bouffant sleeves of the reign of
Henry II. — The Bernaise dress — Costume of the unfortunate Marie Stuart — Rich
dresses and long slender waists of the period — The tight-lacing of Henry III. of
France — The Emperor Joseph of Austria, his edict foi bidding the use of stays, and
how the ladies regarded it — Queen Catherine de Medici and Queen Elizabeth of
England — The severe form of Corsets worn in both France and England — The corps
— Steel Corset covers of the period — Royal standard of fashionable slenderness — The
lawn ruffs of Queen Bess — The art of starching — Voluminous nether-garments worn
by the gentlemen of the period — Fashions of the ladies of Venice — Philip Stubs on
the ruff — Queen Elizabeth's collection of false hair — Stubs furious at the fashions
of ladies — King James and his fondness for dress and fashion — Restrictions and
sumptuary laws regarding dress — Side-arms of the period.
TpROM about 1380 to some time afterwards headdresses of most
singular form of construction were in general wear in fashionable
circles. One of these, the bonnet a canon, was introduced by Isabel of
Bavaria. The " sugar-loaf" headdress was also in high esteem, and con-
sidered especially becoming and attractive. The accompanying illustration
faithfully represents both of these. The latter in a modified form is still
worn by the women of Normandy. Throughout the reign of Louis XI.
dress continued to be most sumptuous in its character. Velvet was
profusely worn, with costly precious stones encircling the trimmings.
Sumptuary laws were issued right and left, with a view to the correction
of so much extravagance, whilst the king himself wore a battered,
shabby old felt cap, with a bordering of leaden figures of the Virgin
Ladies oj? Fashion in che Costume ov 13S0.
NOKMAN HEADUKESS OF THE PRESENT 1>A1.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 6$
Mary round it. The rest of his attire was plain and simple to a
Next we see his successor, Charles VIII., returning as a conqueror
from Naples, dressed in the first style of Italian fashion. Then came
a period of intense activity on the part of milliners and tailors,
and a short time sufficed to completely metamorphose the reigning
belles of the nation. Smaller, much more becoming and coquettish
headdresses were introduced, and a general change of style brought
about. Germany participated in the same sudden change of fashion,
which lasted until the reign of Francis I. Accompanying illustrations
represent a lady of the court of Maximilian I. of Germany, and a lady
of the court of Francis I. of France. During his reign pins came into
general use both in France and England, although their use had been
known to the most ancient races, numerous specimens having been
discovered in the excavations of Thebes and other Old World cities.
Ladies' masks or visors were also introduced in France at this period,
but they did not become general in England until the reign of Queen
Elizabeth. It was about this time that France commenced the establish-
ment of her own fashions and invented for herself, and that the ladies
of that nation became celebrated for the taste and elegance of their
On Henry II. succeeding Charles this taste was steadily on the
increase. The bouffant, or puffed form of sleeve, was introduced, and a
very pretty and becoming style of headdress known as the Bernaise.
The illustration shows a lady wearing this, the feather being a mark of
distinction. The dress is made of rich brocade, and the waist exceed-
ingly long (period, 1547.) The right-hand figure represents the
unfortunate Marie Stuart arrayed in a court dress of the period, 1559.
On the head is a gold coronet ; her under-dress is gold brocade, with
gold arabesque work over it; the over-dress is velvet, trimmed with
ermine ; the girdle consisted of costly strings of pearls ; the sleeves are
66 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
of gold-coloured silk, and the puffings are separated from each other by
an arrangement of precious stones ; the front of the dress is also
profusely ornamented in the same manner; the frill or ruff was made
from costly lace from Venice or Genoa, and was invented by this very
charming but unfortunate lady ; the form of the waist is, as will be
seen on reference to this illustration, long, and shows by its contour
the full influence of the tightly-laced corset beneath the dress, which fits
the figure with extraordinary accuracy.
At this time Fashion held such despotic sway throughout the
continent of Europe, that the Emperor Joseph of Austria, following
out his extraordinary penchant for the passing of edicts, and becoming
alarmed at the formidable lures laid out for the capture of mankind by
the fair sex, passed a law rigorously forbidding the use of the corset in
all nunneries and places where young females were educated ; and no
less a threat than that of excommunication, and the loss of all the
indulgences the Church was capable of affording, hung over the heads
of all those evil-disposed damsels who persisted in a treasonable manner
in the practice of confining their waists with such evil instruments as stays.
Royal command, like an electric shock, startled the College of Physicians
into activity and zeal, and learned dissertations on the crying sin of tight
lacing were scattered broadcast amongst the ranks of the benighted and
tight-laced ladies of the time, much as the advertisements of cheap
furnishing ironmongers are hurled into the West-End omnibuses of our
It is proverbial that gratuitous advice is rarely followed by the
recipient. Open defiance was in a very short time bid to the edicts of
the emperor and the erudite dissertations of the doctors. The corsets
were, if possible, laced tighter than ever, and without anything very
particular happening to the world at large in consequence.
On Queen Catherine de Medici, who, it will be seen, was a
contemporary of Queen Elizabeth of England, assuming the position of
Lady ot' the Court of Maximilian 0; Germany and Francis of France.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
Corset-Cover of Steel Worx in the Time of
Catherine de Medici.
power which she so long maintained at the court of France, costume and
fashion became her study, and at no period of the world's history were
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
its laws more tremendously exacting, and the ladies of her court, as well
as those in distinguished circles, were compelled to obey them. With
her a thick waist was an abomination, and extraordinary tenuity was
insisted on, thirteen inches waist measure being the standard of fashion-
able elegance, and in order that this extreme slenderness might be arrived
Corset-Cover of Steel worn in the Eeign of Queen Elizabeth (Open).
at. she herself invented or introduced an extremely severe and powerful
form of the corset, known as the corps. It is thus described by a
talented French writer: — "This formidable corset was hardened and
stiffened in every imaginable way ; it descended in a long hard point,
and rose stiff and tight to the throat, making the wearers look as if
they were imprisoned in a closely-fitting fortress." And in this rigid
WW \\' !*
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. J$
contrivance the form of the fair wearer was incased, when a system of
gradual and determined constriction was followed out until the waist
arrived at the required degree of slenderness, as shown in the annexed
illustration. Several writers have mentioned the "steel corsets" of this
period, and assumed that they were used for the purpose of forcibly
reducing the size of the waist. In this opinion they were incorrect,
as the steel framework in question was simply used to wear over the
corset after the waist had been reduced by lacing to the required
standard, in order that the dress over it might fit with inflexible and
unerring exactness, and that not even a fold might be seen in the fault-
less stomacher then worn. These corsets (or, more correctly, corset-
covers) were constructed of very thin steel plate, which was cut out and
wrought into a species of open-work pattern, with a view to giving
lightness to them. Numbers of holes were drilled through the flat
surfaces between the hollows of the pattern, through which the needle
and thread were passed in covering them accurately with velvet, silk, or
other rich materials. During the reign of Queen Catherine de Medici,
to whom is attributed the invention of these contrivances, they became
great favourites, and were much worn, not only at her court, but
throughout the greater part of the continent.
They were made in two pieces, opened longitudinally by hinges,
and were secured when closed by a sort of hasp and pin, much like an
ordinary box fastening. At both the front and back of the corsage a
long rod or bar of steel projected in a curved direction downwards, and
on these bars mainly depended the adjustment of the long peaked body
of the dress, and the set of the skirt behind. The illustration at
page 7 1 gives a view of one of those ancient dress-improvers.
The votaries of fashion of Queen Elizabeth's court were not slow
in imitating in a rough manner the new continental invention, and the
illustrations at pages 72 and 76, taken from photographs, will show that,
although not precisely alike, the steel corset-covers of England were
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
much in principle like those of France, and the accompanying illustration
represents a court lady in one of them. We have no evidence, however,
that their use ever became very general in this country, and we find a most
powerful and unyielding form of the corset constructed of very stout mate-
COESET-COVEE OF STEEL WORN IN THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH (CLOSED).
rials and closely ribbed with whalebone superseding them. This was the
corps before mentioned, and its use was by no means confined to the
ladies of the time, for we find the gentlemen laced in garments of this
kind to no ordinary degree of tightness. That this custom prevailed
for some very considerable time will be shown by the accompanying
illustration, which represents Queen Catherine's son, Henry III. (who
was much addicted to the practice of tight lacing), and the Princess
Henry III. of France and the Princess Margaret of Lorraine.
~ r^ -
L.u>v of the Court of Queen Elizabeth
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 8 1
Margaret of Lorraine, who was just the style of figure to please his
taste, which was ladylike in the extreme. Eardrops in his ears, delicate
kid gloves on his hands ; hair dyed to the fashionable tint, brushed back
under a coquettish little velvet cap, in which waved a white ostrich's
feather ; hips bolstered and padded out, waist laced in the very tightest
and most unyielding of corsets, and feet incased in embroidered satin
shoes, Henry was a true son of his fashionable mother, only lacking
her strong will and powerful understanding. England under Elizabeth's
reign followed close on the heels of France in the prevailing style of
dress. From about the middle of her reign the upper classes of both
sexes carried out the custom of tight lacing to an extreme which knew
scarcely any bounds. The corsets were so thickly quilted with whale-
bone, so long and rigid when laced to the figure, that the long pointed
stomachers then worn fitted faultlessly well, without a wrinkle, just as
did the dresses of the French court over the steel framework before
described. The following lines by an old author will give some idea of
their unbending character : —
" These privie coats, by art made strong,
With bones, with paste, with such- like ware,
Whereby their back and sides grow long,
And now they harnest gallants are ;
Were they for use against the foe
Our dames for Amazons might go."
On examining the accompanying illustration representing a lady of
the court of Queen Elizabeth, it will be observed that the farthingale, or
verdingale, as it is sometimes written, and from which the modern crino--
line petticoat is borrowed, serves to give the hips extraordinary width,
which, coupled with the frill round the bottom of the stomacher, gave
the waist the appearance of remarkable slenderness as well as length.
The great size of the frills or ruffs also lent their aid in producing the
82 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
It was in the reign of Elizabeth that the wearing of lawn and
cambric commenced in this country; previously even royal personages
had been contented with fine holland as a material for their ruffs. When
Queen Bess had her first lawn ruffs there was no one in England who
could starch them, and she procured some Dutch women to perform the
operation. It is said that her first starcher was the wife of her coachman,
Guillan. Some years later one Mistress Dinghen Vauden Plasse, the wife
of a Flemish knight, established herself in London as a professed starcher.
She also gave lessons in the art, and many ladies sent their daughters
and kinswomen to learn of her. Her terms were five pounds for the
starching and twenty shillings additional for learning to " seeth" the
starch. Saffron was used with it to impart to it a yellow colour which
was much admired. The gentlemen of the period indulged in nether
garments so puffed out and voluminous that the legislature was compelled
to take the matter in hand. We read of "a man who, having been
brought before the judges for infringing the law made against these
extensive articles of clothing, pleaded the convenience of his pockets as
an excuse for his misdemeanour. They appeared, indeed, to have
answered to him the purposes both of wardrobe and linen cupboard, for
from their ample recesses he drew forth the following articles — viz., a
pair of sheets, two tablecloths, ten napkins, four shirts, a brush, a glass,
a comb, besides nightcaps and other useful things ; his defence being —
' Your worship may understand that because I have no safer storehouse
these pockets do serve me for a roome to lay up my goodes in ; and
though it be a strait prison, yet it is big enough for them.' " His
discharge was granted, and his clever defence well laughed at.
The Venetian ladies appear to have been fully aware of the reducing
effect of frills and ruffs on the apparent size of waist of the wearer,
and they were, as the annexed illustration will show, worn of extra-
ordinary dimensions ; but the front of the figure was, of course,
only displayed, and on this all the decoration and ornamentation that
A Venetian Lady of Fashion, 1560.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 87
extravagant taste could lavish was bestowed. The Elizabethan ruff,
large as it was, bore no comparison with this, and was worn as shown in
the accompanying portrait of the " Virgin Queen," who indulged in
numerous artifices for heightening her personal attractions. The ruffs
and frills of the period so excited the ire of Philip Stubs, a citizen of
London, that in his work, dated 1585, he thus launches out against
them in the quaint language of the time : —
" The women there vse great ruffes and neckerchers of holland,
laune, cameruke, and such clothe as the greatest threed shall not be so
big as the least haire that is, and lest they should fall dovvne they are
smeared and starched in the devil's liquor, I mean starche ; after that
dried with great diligence, streaked, patted, and rubbed very nicely, and
so applied to their goodly necks, and withal vnderpropped with
supportasses (as I told you before), the stately arches of pride ; beyond
all this they have a further fetche, nothing inferiour to the rest, as
namely — three or four degrees of minor ruffes placed gradation, one
beneath another, and al under the mayster deuilruffe. The skirtes,
then, of these great ruffes are long and wide, every way pleated and
crested full curiously, God wot ! Then, last of all, they are either
clogged with gold, silver, or silk lace of stately price, wrought all over
with needleworke, speckeled and sparkeled here and there with the
sunne, the mone, the starres, and many other antiques strange to
beholde. Some are wrought with open worke downe to the midst of the
ruffe, and further, some with close worke, some wyth purled lace so
cloied, and other gewgaws so pestered, as the ruffe is the least parte of
itselfe. Sometimes they are pinned upp to their eares, sometimes they
are suffered to hange over theyr shoulders, like windemill sailes fluttering
in the winde: and thus every one pleaseth her selfe in her foolish
In the matter of false hair her majesty Queen Elizabeth was a perfect
connoisseur, having, so it is said, eighty changes of various kinds always on
hand. The fashionable ladies, too, turned their attention to artificial adorn-
ment of that kind with no ordinary energy, and poor old Stubs appears
almost beside himself with indignation on the subject, and thus writes
about it : — " The hair must of force be curled, frisled, and crisped, laid
out in wreaths and borders from one ear to another. And, lest it should
fall down, it is underpropped with forks, wires, and I cannot tell what,
rather like grim, stern monsters than chaste Christian matrons. At their
hair thus wreathed and crested are hanged bugles, ouches, rings, gold
and silver glasses, and such like childish gewgaws." The fashion of
painting the face also calls down his furious condemnation, and the
dresses come in for a fair share of his vituperation, and their length is
evidently a source of excessive exasperation. We give his opinions in
his own odd, scolding words : —
"Their gownes be no less famous than the rest, for some are of
silke, some velvet, some of grograine, some of taffatie, some of scarlet,
and some of fine cloth of x., xx., or xl. shillings a yarde. But if the whole
gowne be not silke or velvet, then the same shall be layd with lace two
or three fingers broade all over the gowne, or els the most parte, or if
not so (as lace is not fine enough sometimes), then it must bee garded
with great gardes of velvet, every yard fower or sixe fingers broad at the
least, and edged with costly lace, and as these gownes be of divers and
sundry colours, so are they of divers fashions — chaunging with the
moone — for some be of new fashion, some of the olde, some of thys
fashion, and some of that ; some with sleeves hanging downe to their
skirtes, trailing on the ground, and cast over their shoulders like cows'
tailes ; some have sleeves muche shorter, cut vp the arme and poincted
with silke ribbons, very gallantly tied with true love's knottes (for so
they call them) ; some have capes reachyng downe to the midest of their
backes, faced with velvet, or els with some wrought silke taffatie at the
least, and fringed about very bravely (and to shut vp all in a worde),
some are peerled and rinsled downe the backe wonderfully, with more
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 89
knackes than I can declare. Then have they petticoates of the beste
clothe that can be bought, and of the fayrest dye that can be made.
And sometimes they are not of clothe neither, for that is thought too
base, but of scarlet grograine, taffatie, silke, and such like, fringed about
the skirtes with silke fringe of chaungeable colour, but whiche is more
vayne, of whatsoever their petticoates be yet must they have kirtles (for
so they call them), either of silke, velvett, grogaraine, taffatie, satten,
or scarlet, bordered with gardes, lace, fringe, and I cannot tell what
History fails to enlighten us as to whether the irascible Stubs was
blessed with a stylish wife and a large family of fashionable daughters,
but we rather incline to the belief that he must have been a confirmed
old bachelor, as we cannot find that he was ever placed in a lunatic
asylum, a fate which would inevitably have befallen him if the fashions
of the time had been brought within the sphere of his own dwelling.
It is somewhat singular that, writing, as he did, in the most violent
manner against almost every article of personal adornment, and every
artifice of fashionable life, the then universal and extreme use of the
corset should have escaped censure at his hands.
King James, who succeeded Elizabeth, manifested an inordinate
fondness for dress. We read that — " Not only his courtiers, but all the
youthful portion of his subjects, were infected in a like manner, and
the attire of a fashionable gentleman in those days could scarcely have
been exceeded in fantastic device and profuse decoration. The hair was
long and flowing, falling upon the shoulders ; the hat, made of silk,
velvet, or beaver (the latter being most esteemed), was high-crowned,
narrow-brimmed, and steeple-shaped. It was occasionally covered with
gold and silver embroidery, a lofty plume of feathers, and a hatband
sparkling with gems being frequently worn with it. It was customary
to dye the beard of various colours, according to the fancy of the wearer,
and its shape also differed with his profession. The most effeminate
go TKE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
fashion at this time was that of wearing jewelled rings in the ears, which
was common among the upper and middle ranks. Gems were also sus-
pended to ribbons round the neck, while the long ' lovelock' of hair so
carefully cherished under the left ear was adorned with roses of ribbons,
and even real flowers. The ruff had already been reduced by order of
Queen Elizabeth, who enacted that when reaching beyond ' a nayle of a
yeard in depth' it should be clipped. In the early part of her reign the
doublet and hose had attained a preposterous size, especially the nether
garments, which were stuffed and bolstered with wool and hair to such
an extent that Strutt tells us, on the authority of one of the Harleian
manuscripts, that a scaffold was erected round the interior of the Parlia-
ment House for the accommodation of such members as wore them !
This was taken down in the eighth year of Elizabeth's reign, when this
ridiculous fashion was laid aside. The doublet was afterwards reduced
in size, but still so hard-quilted that the wearer could not stoop to the
ground, and was incased as in a coat of mail. In shape it was like a
waistcoat, with a large cape, and either close or very wide sleeves.
These latter were termed Danish. A cloak of the richest materials,
embroidered in gold or silver, and faced with foxskin, lambskin, or
sable, was buttoned over the left shoulder. None, however, under the
rank of an earl were permitted to indulge in sable facings. The hose
were either of woven silk, velvet, or damask ; the garters were worn
externally below the knee, made of gold, silver, or velvet, and trimmed
with a deep gold fringe. Red silk stockings, parti-coloured gaiters, and
even 'cross gartering' to represent the Scotch tartan, were frequently
seen. The shoes of this period were cork-soled, and elevated their
wearers at least two or three inches from the ground. They were com-
posed of velvet of various colours, worked in the precious metals, and if
fastened with strings, immense roses of ribbon were attached to them,
variously ornamented, and frequently of great value, as may be seen in
Howe's continuation of Stowe's Chronicle, where he tells us ' men of rank
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
wear garters and shoe-roses of more than five pounds price.' The dress of
a gentleman was not considered perfect without a dagger and rapier. The
former was worn at the back, and was highly ornamented. The latter
having superseded, about the middle of Elizabeth's reign, the heavy
two-handed sword, previously used in England, was, indeed, chiefly
worn as an ornament, the hilt and scabbard being always profusely
92 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
Strange freaks of Louise de Lorraine — One of her adventures — Her dress at a royal fete
— Marie de Medici — The distended dresses of her time — Hair-powder — Costume a
la enfant — Escapade of the young Louis — Low dresses of the period — The court of
Louis XIV. of France — High heels, slender waists, and fancy costumes — The
Siamese dress — Charles I. of England — Patches introduced — Elaborate costumes of
the period — Puritanism, its effect on the fashions — Fashions in Cromwell's time, and
the general prevalence of the practice of tight-lacing — The ladies of Augsburg
described by Hoechstetterus.
ITTLE change appears to have taken place in the prevailing fashions
^~** of England for some considerable time after this period. In
France two opposing influences sprang up. Henry III., as we have
seen, was the slave of fashion, and mainly occupied his time in devising
some new and extravagant article of raiment. His wife, Louise de
Lorraine, on the other hand, although exceedingly handsome, was of a
gloomy, stern, and ascetic disposition, dressing more like a nun than the
wife of so gay a husband. She caused numerous sumptuary laws to be
framed, in order to, if possible, reduce the style of ladies' dress to a
standard nearer her own ; and the following anecdote will serve to show
the petty spirit in which her powers were sought to be exercised.
A writer on her life says, " She was accustomed to go out on foot
with but a single attendant, both habited plainly in some woollen fabric,
and one day, on entering a mercer's shop in the Rue St. Denis, she
encountered the wife of a president tricked out superbly in the latest
fashions of the day. The subject did not recognise the sovereign, who
inquired her name, and received for answer that she was called * La
Presidente de M.,' the information being given curtly, and with the
additional remark, ' to satisfy your curiosity.' To this the queen replied,
* But, Madame la Presidente, you are very smart for a person of your
condition.' Still the interrogator was not recognised, and Madame la
Court Dress during the Boyhood ob Louis XIII.
Mauie db Medici.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 97
Presidente, with that pertness so characteristic of ordinary womankind,
replied, * At any rate, you did not pay for my smartness.' Scarcely was
this retort completed when it dawned upon the speaker that it was the
queen who had been putting these posing questions, and then a scene
followed of contrite apology on the one hand, and remonstrance on the
frivolity of smart attire on the other, both very easy to imagine."
With all this pretended simplicity and humility, Queen Louise, on certain
occasions, indulged in the most lavish display of her personal attractions.
It is related of her that on the marriage of her sister Margaret, she
attended a magnificent fete given at the Hotel de Bourbon, and made
her appearance in the saloon or grand ball-room as the leader of twelve
beautiful young ladies, arrayed as Naiads. The queen wore a dress of
silver cloth, with a tunic of flesh-coloured and silver crepes over it ; on
her head she wore a splendid ornament, composed of triangles of
diamonds, rubies, and various other gems and precious stones. Still the
king was the acknowledged leader of fashion, which the queen did all in
her power to suppress, except when it suited her royal caprice to astonish
the world with her own elegance.
Henry IV. appears to have had no especial inclination for matters
relating to fashion, and the world wagged much as it pleased so far as he
was concerned. On his marrying, however, his second wife, Marie de
Medici, another ardent supporter of all that was splendid, sumptuous,
and magnificent was found. His first wife, indeed, Marguerite de Valois,
had strong fashionable proclivities, but she was utterly eclipsed by the
new star, whose portrait is the subject of the accompanying illustration,
in which it will be seen that the wide hips and distended form of dress
accompany the long and narrow waist. This style of costume remained
popular, as did hair-powder, which was introduced in consequence of the
grey locks of Henry IV., until the boy-king Louis XIII., who was placed
under the control and regency of his mother, caused by his juvenile
appearance a marked change in the fashions of the time. The men
98 THE CORSET AND THE • CRINOLINE.
shaved off their whiskers and beards, and the ladies brushed back their
hair a Pen/ant, and as about this time Marie showed strong indications of
a tendency towards portliness, the hoops were discarded ; and short waists,
laced to an extreme degree of tightness, long trailing skirts, and very
high-heeled shoes were introduced. The dresses of this period of sudden
change were worn excessively low, and it is said of young Louis that he
was so alarmed, enraged, and astonished at the sight of the white shoul-
ders of a lady of high position that he threw a glass of wine over them,
and precipitately quitted the scene of his discomfiture. The annexed
illustration shows the style of dress after the changes above referred to.
The next noteworthy changes we shall see taking place during the
reign of Charles I. in England and Louis XIV. of France. The court of
the Grand Monarque was one of extraordinary pomp and magnificence ;
flowing ringlets, shoes with heels of extraordinary height, and waists of
extreme slenderness were the rage. Fancy costumes were also much
affected. The accompanying illustration represents a lady and gentleman
of the period equipped for the chase, but of what it would be difficult to
say, unless butterflies were considered in the category of game. The
so-called Siamese dress, which became so generally popular, was worn
first during the reign of Louis XIV. Many of these dresses were
extremely rich and elegant; one is described as having the tunic or
upper-skirt composed of scarlet silk with brocaded gold flowers. The
under-skirt was of green and gold, with frills of exquisite work from the
elbow to the wrist. The accompanying illustration represents a court
lady dressed in this style, and that which follows it a fancy dress of the
same period. It was in this reign that the coloured and ornamented
clocks to ladies' stockings first made their appearance. Patches for the
face were first worn in England during the reign of Charles, although
they continued in use for a great number of years, and the following
satirical lines were written by an old author regarding them and one of
their wearers : —
Fancy COSTUMES OB THE Time or Lous XIV
Il'fll ii i 1'ilTi iiiliililiniiiiii'iiii'i iTTTTiT
Siamese Dress worn at the Couet of Louis XIV.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. IO3
"Your homely face, Flippanta, you disguise
With patches numerous as Argus' eyes ;
I own that patching's requisite for you,
For more we're pleased the less your face we view ;
Yet I advise, since my advice you ask,
Wear but one patch, and be that patch a mask."
The fashions set by the court of Louis were eagerly seized on by
the whole of Europe. The flowing curls, lace cuffs, and profuse
embroidery in use at the court of Charles of England were all borrowed
from France, but the general licence and laxity of the period for some
short time showed itself in the dress of the ladies, whilst fickleness and
love of change, accompanied by thoughtless luxury and profusion, pre-
vailed. The following complaint of a lady's serving-man, dated 163 1,
will show that the Puritans were not without reason in condemning the
extravagances of the time : —
" Here is a catalogue as tedious as a taylor's bill of all the devices
which I am commanded to provide (videlicet) : —
" Chains, coronets, pendants, bracelets, and earrings,
Pins, girdles, spangles, embroidaries, and rings,
Shadomes, rebatacs, ribbands, ruffs, cuffs, falls,
Scarfs, feathers, fans, maskes, muffes, laces, cauls,
Thin tiffanies, cobweb lawn, and fardingales,
Sweet sals, vyles, wimples, glasses, crumping pins,
Pots of ointment, combs, with poking-sticks, and bodkins,
Coyfes, gorgets, fringes, rowels, fillets, and hair laces,
Silks, damasks, velvets, tinsels, cloth of gold,
Of tissues with colours a hundredfold,
But in her tyres so new-fangled is she
That which doth with her humour now agree,
To-morrow she dislikes ; now doth she swear
That a losse body is the neatest weare,
But ere an hour be gone she will protest
A strait gown graces her proportion best.
104 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
" Now calls she for a boisterous fardingale,
Then to her hips she'll have her garments fall.
Now doth she praise a sleeve that's long and wide,
Yet by and by that fashion doth deride ;
Sometimes she applauds a pavement-sweeping train,
And presently dispraiseth it again ;
Now she commands a shallow band so small
That it may seem scarce any band at all ;
But now a new fancy doth she reele,
And calls for one as big as a coach-wheele ;
She'll weare a flowry coronet to-day,
The symbol of her beauty's sad decay ;
To-morrow she a waving plume will try,
The emblem of all female levitie ;
Now in her hat, then in her hair is drest,
Now of all fashions she thinks change the best."
On Puritanism becoming general the style of dress adopted by the
so-called " Roundheads," as a contrast to that of the hated " Cavaliers,"
was stiff, prim, and formal to a degree ; and during Cromwell's sway as
Protector, small waists, stiff corsets, and very tight lacing again became
the fashion; and Bulwer, who writes in 1653, in speaking of the young
ladies of his day, says, "They strive all they possibly can by streight
lacing themselves to attain unto a wand-like smallness of waist, never
thinking themselves fine enough until they can span their waists."
The annexed illustration, adapted by us from his work, The Artificial
Changeling, represents a young lady who has achieved the desired
tenuity. He also quotes from Hoechstetterus, who in his description of
" A us purge, the metropolis of Swevia" 1653 (meaning Augsburg, the
capital of Suabia), " They are," saith he, describing the virgins of
Auspurge, "slender, streight laced, with 'demissi (sloping) shoulders,
lest being grosse and well made they should be thought to have too
athletique bodies." So throughout the length and breadth of Europe
the use of tightly-laced corsets remained general.
Young English Lady of Fashion', 1653.
Fancy Dress worn in the Eeign of Louis XV.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. IO9
Fashion during the reign of Louis XV. — Costumes a la Watteau — An army of barbers —
The fashions of England during the reign of Queen Anne — The diminutive waist
and enormous hoop of her day — The farthingale : letters in the Guardian protesting
against its use — Fashion in 17 13 — Low dresses, tight stays, and short skirts: letters
relating to — Correspondence touching the fashions of that period from the Guardian
— Accomplishments of a lady's-maid — Writings of Gay and Ben Jonson — Their
remarks on the "bodice" and "stays*"
A T the death of Louis XIV. and the accession of his successor,
Louis XV., in 17 15, fashions ran into wonderful extremes and
caprices. Hoops became the rage, as did patches, paint, and marvellously
high- heeled shoes. The artistic skill of Watteau in depicting costume
and devising the attributes of the favourite fancy dresses of the time, led
to their adoption among the votaries of fashion. Shepherds who owned
no sheep were tricked out in satins, laces, and ribbons, and tripped it
daintily hand in hand with the exquisitely-dressed, slender-waisted
shepherdesses we see reproduced in Dresden china and the accompanying
illustration. Guitars tinkled beneath the trees of many a grove in the
pleasure-grounds of the fine old chateaux of France ; fruit strewed on the
ground, costly wines in massive flagons, groups of gay gallants and
charming belles, such as the accompanying illustration represents, engaged
in love-making, music and flirtation, make up the scene on which
Watteau loved most to dwell, and which King Louis' gay subjects were
not slow in performing to the life, and the happy age of the poet
appeared all but realised : —
" There was once a golden time
When the world was in its prime —
When every day was holiday,
And every shepherd learned to love."
To carry out the everyday life of this dream world, no small amount
of sacrifice and labour was needed, and we are informed that over
twelve hundred hairdressers were in full occupation in Paris alone,
frizzing, curling, and arranging in a thousand and one fantastical ways,
hours being needed to perfect the head-gear of a lady of ton. For the
prevailing fashions of England we must step back a few years, and
glance at the latter portion of the reign of Queen Anne, at which time
we find the diminutive size of the waist in marked contrast to the
enormous dimensions of the hoop or farthingale, which reached such a
formidable size that numerous remonstrances appeared in the journals of
the day relative to it. The following letter complaining of the grievance
appeared in the Guardian of July 22, 1713 : —
"Mr. Guardian, — Your predecessor, the Spectator, endeavoured,
but in vain, to improve the charms of the fair sex by exposing their dress
whenever it launched into extremities. Amongst the rest the great
petticoat came under his consideration, but in contradiction to whatever
he has said, they still resolutely persist in this fashion. The form of
their bottom is not, I confess, altogether the same, for whereas before it
was one of an orbicular make, they now look as if they were pressed so
that they seem to deny access to any part but the middle. Many are
the inconveniences that accrue to her majesty's loving subjects from the
said petticoats, as hurting men's shins, sweeping down the ware of
industrious females in the street, &c. I saw a young lady fall down the
other day, and, believe me, sir, she very much resembled an overturned
bell without a clapper. Many other disasters I could tell you of that
befall themselves as well as others by means of this unwieldy garment.
I wish, Mr. Guardian, you would join with me in showing your dislike of
such a monstrous fashion, and I hope, when the ladies see this, the opinion
of two of the wisest men in England, they will be convinced of their folly.
" I am, sir, your daily reader and admirer,
« Tom Pain."
Costumes after Wattbau.
Crinoline in 1713.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 115
The accompanying illustration will show that these remonstrances
were not without cause.
The fashion of wearing extremely low dresses, with particularly
short skirts, also led to much correspondence and many strong remarks,
which are duly commented on by the editor of the Guardian, assisted by
his "good old lady" as he calls her, "the Lady Lizard." Thus he
writes on the subject under discussion : —
" Editorial letter.
"Guardian, July 16, 17 13.
" I am very well pleased with this approbation of my good sisters.
I must confess I have always looked on the ' tucker' to be the decus et
tutamen, the ornament and defence of the female neck. My good old
lady, the Lady Lizard, condemned this fashion from the beginning, and
has observed to me, with some concern, that her sex at the same time
they are letting down their stays are tucking up their petticoats, which
grow shorter and shorter every day. The leg discovers itself in propor-
tion with the neck, but I may possibly take another occasion of handling
this extremity, it being my design to keep a watchful eye over every
part of the female sex, and to regulate them from head to foot. In the
meantime I shall fill up my paper with a letter which comes to me from
another of my obliged correspondents."
That these very low dresses were not alone worn in the house and
at assemblies, but were also occasionally seen on the promenades, is
shown by the following satirical appeal to the editor of the journal from
which we have just been quoting, and the accompanying illustration
represents the too-fascinating style of costume which caused its writer
so much concern : —
"Wednesday, August 12, 1713.
" Notwithstanding your grave advice to the fair sex not to lay the
beauties of their necks so open, I find they mind you so little that we
Il6 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
young men are as much in danger as ever. Yesterday, about seven in
the evening, I took a walk with a gentleman, just come to town, in a
public walk. We had not walked above two rounds when the spark
on a sudden pretended weariness, and as I importuned him to stay longer
he turned short, and, pointing out a celebrated beauty, 'What,' said
he, ' do you think I am made of, that I could bear the sight of such
snowy beauties ? She is intolerably handsome.' Upon this we parted,
and I resolved to take a little more air in the garden, yet avoid the
danger, by casting my eyes downwards ; but, to my unspeakable surprise,
discovered in the same fair creature the finest ankle and prettiest foot
that ever fancy imagined. If the petticoats as well as the stays fhus
diminish, what shall we do, dear Mentor ? It is neither safe to look at
the head nor the feet of the charmer. Whither shall we direct our
eyes ? I need not trouble you with my description of her, but I beg
you would consider that your wards are frail and mortal.
" Your most obedient servant,
There is no source, perhaps, from which a clearer view of the
fashions of this period, and mode of thought then entertained concerning
them, could be obtained than the antiquated journal we have just quoted
from. The opinions therein expressed, and the system of reasoning
adopted by some of the contributors to its columns, are so singularly
quaint that we cannot resist giving the reader the benefit of them. The
happy vein of philosophy possessed by the writer of the following letter
must have made the world a mere pleasure-garden, through which he
wandered at his own sweet will, " king of the universe :" —
"Guardian, Friday, May Stb, 17 13.
"When I walk the streets I use the foregoing natural maxim (viz.,
that he is the true possessor of a thing who enjoys it, and not he that
owns it without the enjoyment of it) to convince myself that I have a
Low Bodies and Curtailed Crinoline.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. I 1 9
property in the gay part of all the gilt chariots that I meet, which I
regard as amusements designed to delight the eye and the imagination
of those kind people who sit in them gaily attired only to please me. I
have a real and they only an imaginary pleasure from their exterior
embellishments. Upon the same principle I have discovered that I am
the natural proprietor of all the diamond necklaces, the crosses and stars,
brocades and embroidered cloths which I see at a play or birthnight, as
giving more natural delight to the spectator than to those who wear
them ; and I look on the beaux and ladies as so many paroquets in an
aviary, or tulips in a garden, designed purely for my diversion. A
gallery of pictures, a cabinet, or library that I have free access to, I
think my own. In a word, all that I desire is the use of things, let who
will have the keeping of them. By which maxim I am growing one of
the richest men in Great Britain, with this difference, that I am not a
prey to my own cares or the envy of others."
The reply to the foregoing letter by a lady of fashion, written with
a strong dash of satire, is equally curious in its way, as it shows
the great importance attached to a pleasing and attractive exterior : —
" To the Editor of the Guardian.
"Tuesday, May igth, 17 13.
" Sir, — I am a lady of birth and fortune, but never knew till last
Thursday that the splendour of my equipage was so beneficial to my
country. I will not deny that I have dressed for some years out of the
pride of my heart, but am very glad that you have so far settled my
conscience in that particular that now I can look upon my vanities as so
many virtues, since I am satisfied that my person and garb give pleasure
to my fellow-creatures. I shall not think the three hours' business
I usually devote to my toilette below the dignity of a rational soul.
I am content to suffer great torment from my stays that my shape may
120 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
appear graceful to the eyes of others, and often mortify myself with
fasting rather than my fatness should give distaste to any man in
England. I am making up a rich brocade for the benefit of mankind,
and design in a little time to treat the town with a thousand pounds'
worth of jewellery. I have ordered my chariot to be newly painted for
your use and the world's, and have prevailed upon my husband to
present you with a pair of Flanders mares, by driving them every
evening round the ring. Gay pendants for my ears, a costly cross for
my neck, a diamond of the best water for my finger shall be purchased,
at any rate, to enrich you, and I am resolved to be a patriot in every
limb. My husband will not scruple to oblige me in these trifles, since I
have persuaded him, from your scheme, that pin-money is only so much
money set for charitable uses. You see, sir, how expensive you are to
me, and I hope you will esteem me accordingly, especially when I assure
you that I am, as far as you can see me,
" Entirely yours,
The tight lacing and tremendously stiff corsets of the time were also
the subjects of satirical remark in some quarters, and were upheld
in others, as the two following letters, copied from the Guardian of 17 13,
will show: —
"Thursday, June iSth, 1713.
« Sir, — I don't know at what nice point you fix the bloom of a
young lady, but I am one who can just look back on fifteen. My father
dying three years ago left me under the care and direction of my mother,
with a fortune not profusely great, yet such as might demand a very
handsome settlement if ever proposals of marriage should be offered.
My mother, after the usual time of retired mourning was over, was so
affectionately indulgent to me as to take me along with her in all her
visits, but still, not thinking she gratified my youth enough, permitted
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 12 1
me further to go with my relatives to all the publick cheerful but
innocent entertainments, where she was too reserved to appear herself.
The two first years of my teens were easy, gay, and delightful ; every
one caressed me, the old ladies told me how finely I grew, and the
young ones were proud of my company ; but when the third year had a
little advanced, my relations used to tell my mother that pretty Miss
Clarey was shot up into a woman. The gentlemen began now not to
let their eyes glance over me, and in most places I found myself distin-
guished, but observed the more I grew into the esteem of their sex, the
more I lost the favour of my own ; some of those whom I had been
familiar with grew cold and indifferent ; others mistook by design my
meaning, made me speak what I never thought, and so, by degrees, took
occasion to break off acquaintance. There were several little insignificant
reflections cast upon me, as being a lady of a great many acquaintances,
and such like, which I seemed not to take notice of. But my mother
coming home about a week ago, told me there was a scandal spread
about town by my enemies that would at once ruin me for ever for a
beauty. I earnestly intreated her to know it ; she refused me, but
yesterday it discovered itself. Being in an assembly of gentlemen and
ladies, one of the gentlemen, who had been very facetious to several of
the ladies, at last turned to me. 'And as for you, madam, Prior has
already given us your character : —
" ' That air and harmony of shape express,
Fine by degrees and beautifully less.'
"I perceived immediately a malignant smile display itself in the
countenance of some of the ladies, which they seconded with a scornful
flutter of the fan, till one of them, unable any longer to contain herself,
asked the gentleman if he did not remember what Congreve said about
Amelia, for she thought it mighty pretty. He made no answer, but
instantly repeated the verses —
!22 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
u « The Mulcibers who in the Minories sweat,
And massive bars on stubborn anvils beat,
Deformed themselves, yet forge those stays of steel,
Which arm Aurelia with a shape to kill.'
" This was no sooner over but it was easily discernable what an
ill-natured satisfaction most of the company took, and the more pleasure
they showed by dwelling upon the two last lines, the more they increased
my trouble and confusion. And now, sir, after this tedious account,
what would you advise me to ? Is there no way to be cleared of these
malicious calumnies ? What is beauty worth that makes the possessed
thus unhappy? Why was Nature so lavish of her gifts to me as to
make her kindness prove a cruelty ? They tell me my shape is delicate,
my eyes sparkling, my lips I know not what, my cheeks, forsooth,
adorned with a just mixture of the rose and lillie ; but I wish this face
was barely not disagreeable, this voice harsh and unharmonious, these
limbs only not deformed, and then perhaps I might live easie and
unmolested, and neither raise love and admiration in the men, nor
scandal and hatred in the women.
" Your very humble servant,
"Editor's Reply to Letter of Thursday, June 18th, 1713.
"The best answer I can make my fair correspondent is, that she
ought to comfort herself with this consideration, that those who talk thus
of her know it is false, but wish to make others believe it is true. 'Tis
not they think you deformed, but are vexed that they themselves were
not so nicely framed. If you will take an old man's advice, laugh and
not be concerned at them ; they have attained what they endeavoured if
they make you uneasie, for it is envy that has made them. I would not
have you with your shape one fiftieth part of an inch disproportioned,
nor desire your face might be impoverished with the ruin of half a
feature, though numbers of remaining beauties might make the loss
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. I 23
insensible ; but take courage, go into the brightest assemblies, and the
world will quickly confess it to be scandal. Thus Plato, hearing it was
asserted by some persons that he was a very bad man — ' I shall take
care,' said he, ' to live so that nobody will believe them.' "
The milliners and lady's-maids of the time were expected to fully
understand all matters relating to the training of the figure.
A writer of this period, in speaking of the requisite accomplishments
of a mantua-maker, says — " She must know how to hide all the defects
in the proportions of the body, and must be able to mould the shape by
the stays so as to preserve the intestines, that while she corrects the
body she may not interfere with the pleasures of the palate."
Some difference of opinion has existed as to the period at which the
word " stays" was first used to indicate an article of dress of the nature
of the corset or bodice. It is evident that the term must have been
perfectly familiar long anterior to 17 13, as constant use is made of it in
the letters we have just given. Gay, who wrote about 1720, also avails
himself of it in The Toilette —
" I own her taper form is made to please,
Yet if you saw her unconfined by stays!"
The word " boddice," or " bodice," was not unfrequently spelt bodies
by old authors, amongst whom may be mentioned Ben Jonson, who wrote
about 1600, and mentions
" The whalebone man
That quilts the bodies I have leave to span."
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
General use of the word "stays" after 1600 in England — Costume of the court of
Louis XVI. — Dress in 1776 — The formidable stays and severe constriction then had
recourse to — The stays drawn by Hogarth — Dress during the French revolutionary
period — Short waists and long trains — Writings of Buchan — Jumpers and "Gari-
baldis" — Return to the old practice of tight-lacing — Training of figures : backboards
and stocks — Medical evidence in favour of stays — Fashion in the reign of George III.
— Stays worn habitually by gentlemen — General use of Corsets for boys on the
Continent — The officers of Gustavus Adolphus — The use of the Corset for youths :
a letter from a gentleman on the subject of — Evidence regarding the wearing of
Corsets by gentlemen of the present day — Remarks on the changes of fashion — The
term " Crinoline" not new — Crinoline among the South Sea Islanders — Remarks of
Madame La Sante on Crinoline and slender waists — Abstinence from food as an
assistance to the Corset — Anecdote from the Traditions of Edinburgh — The custom
of wearing Corsets during sleep, its growing prevalence in schools and private families :
letters relating to — The belles of the United States and their " illusion waists" —
Medical evidence in favour of moderately tight lacing — Letters from ladies who have
been subjected to tight-lacing.
"P'OR some considerable period of time we find stays much more
frequently spoken of than corsets in the writings of English authors,
but their use continued to be as general and their form of construction
just as unyielding as ever, both at home and abroad. The costume
worn at the court of Louis XVI., of which the following illustration will
give an idea, depended mainly for its completeness on the form of the
stays, over which the elaborately-finished body of the dress was made to
fit without fold or crease, forming a sort of bodice, which in many
instances was sewn on to the figure of the wearer after the stays had
been laced to their extreme limit. The towering headdress and
immensely wide and distended skirt gave to the figure an additional
appearance of tenuity, as we have seen when describing similar contri-
Court Dress of the Reign of Louis XYT.
Classic Costume ok the French Revolutionary Period.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. I2Q
vances in former times. Most costly laces were used for the sleeves,
and the dress itself was often sumptuously brocaded and ornamented
with worked wreaths and flowers. High-heeled shoes were not wanting
to complete the rather astounding toilet of 1776. For many years
before this time, and, in fact, from the commencement of the eighteenth
century, it had been the custom for staymakers, in the absence of any
other material strong and unyielding enough to stand the wear and
tension brought to bear on their wares, to employ a species of leather
known as " bend," which was not unlike that used for shoe-soles, and
measured very nearly a quarter of an inch in thickness. The stays
made from this were very long-waisted, forming a narrow conical case,
in the most circumscribed portion of which the waist was closely laced,
so that the figure was made upright to a degree. Many of Hogarth's
figures, who wear the stays of his time (1730), are erect and remarkably
slender-waisted. Such stays as he has drawn are perfectly straight in
cut, and are filled with stiffening and bone.
In 1760 we find a strong disposition manifested to adopt the
so-called classic style of costume. During the French revolutionary move-
ment and in the reign of the First Napoleon, the ladies endeavoured to
copy the costume of Ancient Greece, and in 1797 were about as
successful in their endeavours as young ladies at fancy dress balls usually
are in personating mermaids or fairy queens. The annexed illustration
represents the classic style of that period. For several years the ladies
of England adopted much the same style of costume, and resorted to
loose bodies — if bodies they might be called — long trains, and waists
so short that they began and ended immediately under the armpits.
The following illustration represents a lady of 1806. Buchan, in
writing during this short-waisted, long-trained period, congratulates him-
self and society at large on the fact of " the old strait waistcoats of
whalebone," as he styles them, falling into disuse. Not long after this
the laws of fashion became unsettled, as they periodically have done for
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
ages, and the lines written by an author who wrote not long after
might have been justly applied to the changeable tastes of this transition
period : —
" Now a shape in neat stays,
Now a slattern in jumps,"
these "jumps" being merely loose short jackets, very much like
those worn under the name of "jumpers" at the present day by ship-
wrights and some other artificers. The form of the modern " Garibaldi"
appears to have been borrowed from this. The reign of relaxation
seems to have been of a comparatively short duration indeed, as we see
by the remark made by Buchan's son, who edited a new edition of his
father's work, Advice to Mothers, and an appendix to it: — "Small" (says
he) " is the confidence to be placed in the permanent effects of fashion.
Had the author lived till the present year (1810), he would have
witnessed the fashion of tight lacing revived with a degree of fury and
prevailing to an extent which he could form no conception of, and which
posterity will not credit. Stays are now composed, not of whalebone,
indeed, or hardened leather, but of bars of iron and steel from three to
four inches broad, and many of them not less than eighteen in length."
The same author informs us that it was by no means uncommon to see
"A mother lay her daughter down upon the carpet, and, placing her
foot on her back, break half-a-dozen laces in tightening her stays."
Those who advocate the use of the corset as being indispensable to the
female toilet have much reason on their side when they insist that these
temporary freaks of fancy for loose and careless attire only call for
infinitely more rigid and severe constriction after they (as they invariably
have done) pass away, than if the regular training of the figure had
been systematically carried out by the aid of corsets of ordinary power.
In a period certainly not much over thirty years, the old-established
standard of elegance, "the span," was again established for waist
measurement. Strutt, whose work was published in 1796, informs us
Lady of Fashion, 1806.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 33
that in his own time he remembers it to have been said of young women,
in proof of the excellence of their shape, that you might span their
waists, and he also speaks of having seen a singing girl at the Italian
Opera whose waist was laced to such an excessive degree of smallness
that it was painful to look at her.
Pope, in the Challenge, in speaking of the improved charms of a
beauty of the court of George II., clearly shows in what high esteem
a slender figure was held. As a bit of acceptable news, he says —
"Tell Pickenbourg how slim she's grown."
There is abundant evidence to show that no ordinary amount of
management and training was had recourse to then, as now, for
reducing the waists of those whose figures had been neglected to the
required standard of fashionable perfection, and that those who under-
stood the art were somewhat chary in conferring the benefit of it. In a
poem entitled the Bassit Table, attributed to Lady M. W. Montagu,
Similinda, in exposing the ingratitude of a rival beauty, exclaims —
" She owes to me the very charms she wears —
An awkward thing when first she came to town,
Her shape unfashioned and her face unknown ;
I introduced her to the park and plays,
And by my interest Cozens made her stays."
A favour in those days no doubt well worthy of gratitude and due
About this time it was the custom of some fashionable staymakers
to sew a narrow, stiff, curved bar of steel along the upper edge of the
stays, which, extending back to the shoulders on each side, effectually
kept them back, and rendered the use of shoulder-straps superfluous.
The slightest tendency to stoop was at once corrected by the use of the
backboard, which was strapped flat against the back of the waist and
shoulders, extending up the back of the neck, where a steel ring covered
with leather projected to the front and encircled the throat. The young
lady of fashion undergoing the then system of boarding-school training
enjoyed no bed of roses, especially if unblessed on the score of slender-
ness. A hard time indeed must an awkward, careless girl have had
of it, incased in stiff, tightly-laced stays, backboard on back, and
feet in stocks. She simply had to improve or suffer, and probably did
both. It is singular and noteworthy that although so many of the
older authors give stays the credit of constantly producing spinal
curvature, an able writer on the subject of the present day should make
this unqualified assertion : — " To some, stays may have been injurious ;
fewer evils, so far as my experience goes, have arisen from them than
from other causes." It is well known that ladies of the eighteenth
century did not suffer from spinal disease in the proportion of those of
the nineteenth, which might arise in some degree from the system of
education ; but some highly-educated women of that period were elegant
and graceful figures, and it is well known they generally wore stiff stays,
though their make, it must be admitted, was less calculated to injure the
figure than many of those of the present day.
The author we have just quoted goes on to say — " Mr. Walker, in
ridiculing the practice of wearing stays, has chosen a very homely and
not very correct illustration of the human figure. 'The uppermost pair
of ribs,' says he, 'which lie just at the bottom of the neck, are very
short. The next pair are rather longer, the third longer still, and thus
they go on increasing in length to the seventh pair, or last true ribs,
after which the length diminishes, but without materially contracting the
size of the cavity, because the false ribs only go round a part of the
body. Hence the chest has . a sort of conical shape, or it may be
compared to a common beehive, the narrow pointed end being next the
neck, and the broad end undermost ; the natural form of the chest, in
short, is just the reverse of the fashionable shape of the waist ; the latter
is narrow below and wide above, the former is narrow above and wide
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 35
below.' Surely, when the idea struck him, he must have been gazing
on a living skeleton, uncovered with muscle. After reading his observa-
tions, I took the measure of a well-formed little girl, seven years of age,
who had never worn stays, and found the circumference of the bust just
below the shoulders one inch and a-half larger than at the lower part of
the waist." The views of the author just quoted seem to be borne out
by the researches of a French physician of high standing who has paid
much attention to the subject. He positively asserts that " Corsets cannot
be charged with causing deviation of the vertebral column"
After the period referred to by Buchan's son, when tight-lacing was
so rigorously revived, we see no diminution of it, and towards the end of
George III.'s reign, gentlemen, as well as ladies, availed themselves of
the assistance of the corset-maker. Advertising tailors of the time
freely advertised their " Codrington corsets" and " Petersham stiffners"
for gentlemen of fashion, much as the "Alexandra corset," or "the
Empress's own stay," is brought to the notice of the public at the
present day. Soemmering informs us that as long ago as 1760, "It was
the fashion in Berlin, and also in Holland a few years before, to apply
corsets to children, and many families might be named in which parental
fondness selected the handsomest of several boys to put in corsets." In
France, Russia, Austria, and Germany, this practice has been decidedly
on the increase since that time, and lads intended for the army are
treated much after the manner of young ladies, and are almost as tightly
laced. It is related of Prince de Ligne and Prince Kaunitz that they
were invariably incased in most expensively-made satin corsets, the
former wearing black and the latter white. Dr. Doran, in writing of
the officers of the far-famed " Lion of the North," Gustavus Adolphus,
says, "They were the tightest-laced exquisites of suffering humanity."
The worthy doctor, like many others who have written on the subject,
inseparably associates the habitual wearing of corsets with extreme
suffering; but the gentlemen who, like the ladies, have been sub-
136 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
jected to the full discipline of the corset, not only emphatically deny that
it has caused them any injury, and, beyond the inconvenience experienced
on adopting any new article of attire, little uneasiness, but, on the
contrary, maintain that the sensations associated with the confirmed
practice of tight-lacing are so agreeable that those who are once addicted
to it rarely abandon the practice. The following letter to the English-
woman's Magazine of November, 1867, from a gentleman who was
educated in Vienna, will show this : —
"Madam, — May I be permitted for once to ask admission to your
'Conversazione,' and to plead as excuse for my intrusion that 1 am
really anxious to indorse your fair correspondent's (Belle's) assertion
that it is those who know nothing practically of the corset who are most
vociferous in condemning it? Strong-minded women who have never
worn a pair of stays, and gentlemen blinded by hastily-formed prejudice,
alike anathematise an article of dress of the good qualities of which they
are utterly ignorant, and which consequently they cannot appreciate.
On a subject of so much importance as regards comfort (to say nothing
of the question of elegance, scarcely less important on a point of feminine
costume), no amount of theory will ever weigh very heavily when
opposed to practical experience.
" The proof of the pudding is a proverb too true not to be acted on in
such a case. To put the matter to actual test, can any of the opponents
of the corset honestly state that they have given up stays after having
fairly tried them, except in compliance with the persuasions or commands
of friends or medical advisers, who seek in the much-abused corset a conve-
nient first cause for an ailment that baffles their skill ? c The Young Lady
Herself (a former correspondent) does not complain of either illness or
pain, even after the first few months ; while, on the other hand, Staylace,
Nora, and Belle bring ample testimony, both of themselves and their school-
fellows, as to the comfort and pleasure of tight-lacing. To carry out my
first statement as to the truth of Belle's remark, those of the opposite
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 137
sex who, either from choice or necessity, have adopted this article of
attire, are unanimous in its praise ; while even among an assemblage of
opponents a young lady's elegant figure is universally admired while the
cause is denounced. From personal experience, I beg to express a
decided and unqualified approval of corsets. I was early sent to school
in Austria, where lacing is not considered ridiculous in a gentleman as in
England, and I objected in a thoroughly English way when the doctor's
wife required me to be laced. I was not allowed any choice, however.
A sturdy madchen was stoically deaf to my remonstrances, and speedily
laced me up tightly in a fashionable Viennese corset. I presume my
impressions were not very different from those of your lady correspon-
dents. I felt ill at ease and awkward, and the daily lacing tighter and
tighter produced inconvenience and absolute pain. In a few months,
however, I was as anxious as any of my ten or twelve companions to
have my corsets laced as tightly as a pair of strong arms could draw
them. It is from no feeling of vanity that I have ever since continued to
wear them, for, not caring to incur ridicule, I take good care that my
dress shall not betray me, but I am practically convinced of the comfort
and pleasantness of tight-lacing, and thoroughly agree with Staylace that
the sensation of being tightly laced in an elegant, well-made, tightly-
fitting pair of corsets is superb. There is no other word for it. I have
dared this avowal because I am thoroughly ashamed of the idle nonsense
that is being constantly uttered on this subject in England. The terrors
of hysteria, neuralgia, and, above all, consumption, are fearlessly promised
to our fair sisters if they dare to disregard preconceived opinions, while,
on the other hand, some medical men are beginning slowly to admit that
they cannot conscientiously support the extravagant assertions of former
days. ' Stay torture? c whalebone vices? and \ corset screws* are very
terrible and horrifying things upon paper, but when translated into
cont'd or satin they wear a different appearance in the eyes of those most
competent to give an opinion. That much perfectly unnecessary dis-
I38 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
comfort and inconvenience is incurred by the purchasers of ready-made
corsets is doubtless true. The waist measure being right, the chest,
where undue constriction will naturally produce evil effects, is very
generally left to chance. If, then, the wearer suffers, who is to blame
"The remark echoed by nearly all your correspondents, that ladies
have the remedy in their own hands by having their stays made to
measure, is too self-evident for me to wish to enlarge upon it ; but I do
wish to assert and insist that, if a corset allows sufficient room in the
chest, the waist may be laced as tightly as the wearer desires without
fear of evil consequences ; and, further, that the ladies themselves who
have given tight-lacing a fair trial, and myself and schoolfellows converted
against our will, are the only jury entitled to pronounce authoritatively
on the subject, and that the comfortable support and enjoyment afforded
by a well-laced corset quite overbalances the theoretical evils that are so
confidently prophesied by outsiders.
Since it has become a custom to send lads from England to the Con-
tinent for education, many of them adhere to the use of the corset on
their return, and of the use of this article of attire among the rising gene-
ration of the gentlemen of this country there can be no doubt ; we are
informed by one of the leading corset-makers in London that it is by no
means unusual to receive the orders of gentlemen, not for the manufac-
ture of the belts so commonly used in horse-exercise, but veritable
corsets, strongly boned, steeled, and made to lace behind in the usual
way — not, as the corset-maker assured us, from any feeling of vanity on
the part of the wearers, who so arranged their dresses that no one would
even suspect that they wore corsets beneath them, but simply because
they had become accustomed to tight-lacing, and were fond of it. So it
will be seen that the fair sex are not the only corset-wearers.
During 1824, it will be seen by the accompanying illustration that
Fashionable Dress in 1S24.
Lad* of Fashion, 1827.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 143
fashion demanded the contour of the figure should be fully defined, and
the absence of any approach to fullness about the skirt below the
waist led to the use of very tight stays, in order that there might be
some contrast in the outline of the figure. This style of dress, with slight
modifications, remained in fashion for several years. In 1827, the dress,
as will be seen on reference to the annexed illustration, had changed but
little ; but three years, or thereabouts, worked a considerable change,
and we see, in 1830, sleeves of the most formidable size, hats to match,
short skirts, and long slender waists the rage again. A few years later
the skirts had assumed a much wider spread ; the sleeves of puffed-out
pattern were discarded. The waist took its natural position, and was
displayed to the best advantage by the expansion of drapery below it, as
will be seen on reference to the annexed cut. The term "crinoline"
is by no means a new one, and long before the hooped petticoats with
which the fashions of the last few years have made us so familiar, the
horsehair cloth, so much used for distending the skirts of dresses, was
commonly known by that name. It is not our intention here to enter on
a description of the almost endless forms which from time to time this
adjunct to ladies' dress has assumed. Whether the idea of its construc-
tion was first borrowed from certain savage tribes it is difficult to determine.
That a very marked and unmistakable form of it existed amongst the
natives of certain of the South Sea Islands at their discovery by the early
navigators, the curious cut, representing a native belle, will show, and
there is no doubt that, although the dress of the savage is somewhat diffe-
rent in its arrangement from that of the European lady of fashion, the object
sought by the use of a wide-spread base to the form is the same. Madame
La Sante, in writing on the subject, says — "Every one must allow that
the expanding skirts of a dress, springing out immediately below the
waist, materially assist by contrast in making the waist look small and
slender. It is, therefore, to be hoped that now that crinoline no longer
assumes absurd dimensions, it will long continue to hold its ground."
144 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
The same author, in speaking of the prevailing taste for slender waists,
thus writes : — " We have seen that for many hundred years a slender
figure has been considered a most attractive female charm, and there is
nothing to lead us to suppose that a taste which appears to be implanted
in man's very nature will ever cease to render the acquisition of a small
waist an object of anxious solicitude with those who have the care of the
young." For several years this solicitude has been decidedly on the
increase, and many expedients which were had recourse to in ancient
days for reducing the waist to exceeding slenderness, are, we shall see
as we proceed, in full operation.
A very sparing diet has, as we have already seen, from the days of
Terentius, been one great aid to the operation of the corset.
There is a very quaint account to be found in the Traditions of
Edinburgh bearing on this dieting system. An elderly lady of fashion,
who appears to have lived in Scotland during the early part of the last
century, was engaged on the formation of the figures of her daughters,
stinted meals and tight corsets worn day and night being some of the
means made use of; but it is related that a certain cunning and evil-
minded cook, whose coarse mind only ran on the pleasure of the appetite,
used to creep stealthily in the dead of night to the chamber in which
the young ladies slept, unlace their stays, and let them feed heartily on
the strictly-prohibited dainties of the pantry ; grown rash by impunity,
she one night ventured to attempt running the blockade with hot roast
goose, but three fatal circumstances combined against the success of the
dangerous undertaking. In the first place, the savoury perfume arising
from hot roast goose was penetrating to an alarming degree ; in the
second, the old lady, as ill-luck would have it, happened to be awake,
and, worse than all, had no snuff, so smelt goose. The scene which
followed the capture of the illicit cargo and the detection of the culprit
cook can be much more easily imagined than described.
The custom of wearing the corset by night as well as by day, above
Lady of Fashion, 1830.
Lady of Fashion, 1837.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 49
referred to, although partially discontinued for some time, is becoming
general again. About the commencement of the last century the custom
was much advocated and followed in France, and it is said to reduce and
form the figure much more rapidly than any system of lacing by day
only could bring about.
A French author of the period referred to says — " Many mothers
who have an eye to the main chance, through an excess of zeal, or
rather from a strange fear, condemn their daughters to wear corsets
night and day, lest the interruption of their use should hinder their
project of procuring for them fine waists." That ladies are fully aware
of the potent influences of the practice, the following letter to the
Englishwoman 's Domestic Magazine will show : —
"As several of your correspondents have remarked, the personal
experience of those who have for a number of years worn tight-fitting
corsets can alone enable a clear and fair judgment to be pronounced upon
their use. Happening to have had what I believe you will admit to be
an unusual experience of tight-lacing, I trust you will allow me to tell
the story of my younger days. Owing to the absence of my parents in
India, I was allowed to attain the age of fourteen before any care was
bestowed upon my figure ; but their return home fortunately saved me
from growing into a clumsy, inelegant girl ; for my mamma was so
shocked at my appearance that she took the unusual plan of making me
sleep in my corset. For the first few weeks I occasionally felt conside-
rable discomfort, owing, in a great measure, to not having worn stays
before, and also to their extreme tightness and stiffness. Yet, though I
was never allowed to slacken them before retiring to rest, they did not
in the least interfere with my sleep, nor produce any ill effects whatever.
I may mention that my mamma, fearing that, at so late an age, I should
have great difficulty in securing a presentable figure, considered ordinary
means insufficient, and consequently had my corsets filled with whalebone
and furnished with shoulder-straps, to cure the habit of stooping which
I5C THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
I had contracted. The busk, which was nearly inflexible, was not front-
fastening, and the lace being secured in a hard knot behind and at the
top, effectually prevented any attempt on my part to unloose my stays.
Though I have read lately of this plan having been tried with advantage,
I believe it is as yet an unusual one, and as the testimony of one who
has undergone it without the least injury to health cannot fail to be of
value in proving that the much less severe system usually adopted must
be even less likely to do harm, I am sure you will do me and your
numerous readers the favour of inserting this letter in your most enter-
taining and valuable magazine. I am delighted to see the friends of the
corset muster so strong at the c Englishwoman's Conversazione.' What
is most required, however, are the personal experiences of the ladies
themselves, and not mere treatises on tight-lacing by those who, like
your correspondent Brisbane, have never tried it.
Another correspondent to the same journal (signing herself " Debu-
tante") writes in the number for November, 1867, as follows: —
" Mignonette's case is not an c unusual' one. She has just finished
her education at a 'West-End school' where the system was strictly
enforced. As she entered as a pupil at the age of thirteen and was
very slender, she was fitted on her arrival with a corset, which
could be drawn close without the extreme tightness found necessary in
Mignonette's case. They did not open in front, and were fastened by
the under-governess in such a manner that any attempt to unlace them
during the night would be immediately detected at the morning's
inspection. After the first week or two she felt no discomfort or pain
of any kind, though, as she was still growing, her stays became propor-
tionately tighter, but owing to her figure never being allowed to enlarge
during the nine or ten hours of sleep, as is usually the case, this was
Madame La Sante also refers to the custom as being much more
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 153
general than is commonly supposed. She says — " Several instances of
this system in private families have lately come to my own knowledge,
and I am acquainted with more than one fashionable school in the neigh-
bourhood of London where the practice is made a rule of the establish-
ment. Such a method is doubtlessly resorted to from a sense of duty,
and those girls who have been subjected to this discipline, and with
whom I have had an opportunity of conversing, say that for the first few
months the uneasiness by the continued compression was very consider-
able, but that after a time they became so accustomed to it that they felt
reluctant to discontinue the practice." In the United States of America
the ladies often possess figures of remarkable slenderness and elegance,
and the term "illusion" is not unfrequently applied to a waist of more
than ordinary taperness. In a great number of instances the custom
above referred to would be found to have mainly contributed to its
original formation. The way in which doctors disagree on matters
relating to the corset question is most remarkable.
The older writers, as we have seen, launched out in the most
sweeping and condemnatory manner against almost every article of
becoming or attractive attire. Corsets were most furiously denounced,
and had the qualities which were gravely attributed to them been one-
thousandth part as deadly as they were represented, the civilised world
would long ere this have been utterly depopulated. When we find such
diseases and ailments as the following attributed by authors of supposed
talent to the use of the corset, we are no longer surprised at
remarks and strictures emanating from similar sources meeting with
ridicule and derision : " hooping-cough, obliquity of vision, polypus,
apoplexy, stoppage of the nose, pains in the eyes, and earache" are all
laid at the door of the stays. We are rather surprised that large ears
and wooden legs were not added to the category, as they might
have been with an equal show of reason. Medical writers of the
present day are beginning to take a totally different view of the
154 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
matter, as the following letter from a surgeon of much experience will
show : —
" My attention has just been directed to an interesting and important
discussion in your magazine on the subject of corsets, and I have been
urged as a medical man to give my opinion regarding them. Under
these circumstances 1 trust you will allow me to attend the ' English-
woman's Conversazione' for once, as medical men are supposed to
be the great opponents of the corset. It is no doubt true that
those medical men who studied for their profession some thirty or
forty years ago are still prejudiced against this elegant article of
female dress, for stays were very different things even then to
what they are now. The medical works, too, which they studied
were written years before, and spoke against the buckram and iron
stays of the last century. The name * stays,' however, being still
used at the present time, the same odium still attaches to them
in the minds of physicians of the old school. But the rising generation
of doctors are free from these prejudices, and fairly judge the light and
elegant corsets of the present day on their own merits. In short,
it is now generally admitted, and I, for one, freely allow, that moderate
compression of the waist by well-made corsets is far from being injurious.
It is really absurdly illogical for the opponents of the corset to
bring forward quotations from medical writers of the last century,
for the animadversions of Soemmering are still quoted. Let us, however,
merely look at facts as they at present stand ; statistics prove that there
are several thousand more women than men in the United Kingdom.
A statement in the Registrar-General's Report of a few years since
has been brought forward to prove that corsets produce an enormous
mortality from consumption, but these would-be benefactors of the fair
sex omit to state how many males die from that disease. If there
be any preponderance of deaths among women from consumption,
the cause may easily be found in the low dress, the thin shoes, and the
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 55
sedentary occupations in close rooms, without attributing the blame
to the corset. Dr. Walshe, in his well-known work on diseases of the
lungs, distinctly asserts that corsets cannot be accused of causing
consumption. With regard to spinal curvature, a disease which has
been connected by some writers with the use of stays, an eminent
French physician, speaking of corsets, says — 'They cannot be charged
with causing deviations of the vertebral column.' Let us, then, hear no
more nonsense about the terrible consequences of wearing corsets, at all
events till the ladies return to the buckram and iron of our great-
grandmothers. Your fair readers may rest assured that what is said
against stays at the present day is merely the lingering echo of prejudice,
and is quite inapplicable now-a-days to the light and elegant production
of the scientific corsetiere. As a medical man (and not one of the old
school) I feel perfectly justified in saying that ladies who are content
with a moderate application of the corset may secure that most elegant
female charm, a slender waist, without fear of injury to health.
A great number of ladies who, by the systematic use of the corset,
have had their waists reduced to the fashionable standard, are to be
constantly met in society. The great majority declare that they have in
no way suffered in health from the treatment they had been subjected to.
Vide the following letter from the S$ueen of July 18, 1863 : —
" Madam, — As I have for a long time been a constant reader of the
Lady's 'Journal, I venture to ask you if you, or any of your valuable
correspondents, will kindly tell me if it is true that small waists are again
coming into fashion generally ? I am aware that they cannot be said to
have gone out of fashion altogether, for one often sees very slender
figures; but I think during the last few years they have been less
thought of than formerly. I have heard, however, from several sources,
and by the public prints, that they are again to be La Mode. Now I
fortunately possess a figure which will, I hope, satisfy the demand of
ic6 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
fashion in this respect. What is the smallest-sized waist that one can
have ? Mine is sixteen and a-half inches, and, I have heard, is considered
small. I do not believe what is said against the corset, though I admit
that if a girl is an invalid, or has a very tender constitution, too sudden a
reduction of the waist may be injurious. With a waist which is, I
believe, considered small, I can truly say I have good health. If all that
was said against the corset were true, how is it so many ladies live to an
advanced age ? A friend of mine has lately died at the age of eighty-
six, who has frequently told me anecdotes of how in her young days she
was laced cruelly tight, and at the age of seventeen had a waist fifteen
inches. Yet she was eighty-six when she died. I know that it has been
so long the habit of public journals to take their example from medical
men (who, I contend, are not the best judges in the matter) in running
down the corset, and the very legitimate, and, if properly employed,
harmless mode of giving a graceful slenderness to the figure, that I can
hardly expect that at present you will have courage to take the part of
the ladies. But I beg you to be so kind as to tell me what you know of
the state of the fashion as regards the length and size of the waist, and
whether my waist would be considered small. Also what is the smallest-
sized waist known among ladies of fashion. By doing this in an early
number you will very much oblige,
The foregoing letter was followed on the 25th of the same month by
one from another correspondent to the same paper, fully bearing out
the truth of the view therein contained, and at the same time showing
the system adopted in many of the French finishing schools : —
"Madam, — As a constant reader of your highly-interesting and
valuable paper, I have ventured to reply to a letter under the above
heading from your correspondent Constance, contained in your last
week's impression. In reply to her first question, there is little doubt, I
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 57
think, that slender and long waists will ere long be la mode. Ladies of
fashion here who are fortunate enough to possess such enviable and
graceful attractions, take most especial care by the arrangement of their
toilets to show them off to the very best advantage. A waist of
sixteen and a-half-inches would, I am of opinion, be considered, for a
lady of fair average size and stature, small enough to satisfy even the
most exacting of Fashion's votaries. The question as to how small one's
waist can be is rather hard to answer, and I am not aware that any
standard has yet been laid down on the subject, but an application to
any of our fashionable corset-makers for the waist measurement of the
smallest sizes made would go far to clear the point up. Many of the
corsets worn at our late brilliant assemblies were about the size of your
correspondent's, and some few, I have been informed, even less. I beg
to testify most fully to the truth of the remarks made by Constance as
to the absurdly-exaggerated statements (evidently made by persons
.utterly ignorant of the whole matter) touching the dreadfully injurious
effects of the corset on the female constitution. My own, and a wide
range of other experiences, leads me to a totallv different conclusion, and
I fully believe that, except in cases of confirmed disease or bad constitu-
tion, a well-made and nicely-fitting corset inflicts no more injury than a
tight pair of gloves. Up to the age of fifteen I was educated at a small
provincial school, was suffered to run as nearly wild as could well be, and
grew stout, indifferent and careless as to personal appearance, dress,
manners, or any of their belongings. Family circumstances and change
of fortune at this time led my relatives to the conclusion that my
education required a continental finish. Advantage was therefore taken
of the protection offered by some friends about to travel, and I was,
with well-filled trunks and a great deal of good advice, packed off to a
highly-genteel and fashionable establishment for young ladies, situated in
the suburbs of Paris. The morning after my arrival I was aroused by
the clang of the ' morning bell.' I was in the act of commencing a hurried
1^8 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
and by no means an elaborate toilet, when the under-governess, accom-
panied by a brisk, trim little woman, the bearer of a long cardboard
case, made their appearance ; corsets of various patterns, as well as silk
laces of most portentous length, were at once produced, and a very short
time was allowed to elapse before my experiences in the art and mystery
of tight-lacing may be fairly said to have commenced. My dresses were
all removed, in order that the waists should be taken in and the make
altered ; a frock was borrowed for me for the day, and from that hour
I was subjected to the strict and rigid system of lacing in force through
the whole establishment, no relaxation of its discipline being allowed
during the day on any pretence whatever. For the period (nearly three
years) I remained as a pupil, I may say that my health was excellent, as
was that of the great majority of my young companions in 'bondage,'
and on taking my departure I had grown from a clumsy girl to a very
smart young lady, and my waist was exactly seven inches less than on
the day of my arrival. From Paris I proceeded at once to join my
relatives in the island of Mauritius, and on my arrival in the isle sacred
to the memories of Paul and Virginia, I found the reign of ' Queen
Corset' most arbitrary and absolute, but without in any way that I could
discover interfering with either the health or vivacity of her exceedingly
attractive and pretty subjects. Before concluding, and whilst on the
subject, a few words on the c front-fastening corset,' now so generally
worn, may not come amiss. After a thorough trial I have finally
abandoned its use, as being imperfect and faulty in every way, excepting
the very doubtful advantage of being a little more quickly put on and
off. Split up and open at the front as they are, and only fastening
here and there, the whole of the compactness and stability so highly
important in this part, of all others, of a corset is all but lost, whilst the
ordinary steel busk secures these conditions, to the wearing out of the
material of which the corset is composed. The lpng double-looped
round lace used is, I consider, by no means either as neat, secure, or
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 159
durable as a flat plaited silk lace of good quality. Trusting these
remarks and replies may prove such as required by Constance, I beg to
Another lady writing to the Queen on the same subject in the month
of August has a waist under sixteen inches in circumference, as will be
seen by the annexed letter, and yet she declares her health to be
uninjured : —
"Dear Madam, — I have read with interest the letters of Constance
and Fanny on the subject of slender waists. It is so much the fashion
among medical men to cry down tight-lacing that advocates are very
daring who venture to uphold the practice. It has ever been in vogue
among our sex, and will, I maintain, always continue so long as elegant
figures are admired, for the wearing of corsets produces a grace and
slenderness which nature never gives, and if the corset is discontinued or
relaxed, the figure at once becomes stout and loose. The dress fits
better over a close-laced corset, and the fullness of the skirts, and ease of
its folds, are greatly enhanced by the slenderness of the waist. My own
waist is under sixteen inches. I have always enjoyed good health. Why,
then, if the practice of tight-lacing is not prejudicial to the constitution
of all its votaries, should we be debarred from the means of improving
our appearance and attaining an elegant and graceful figure ? I quite
agree with Fanny respecting the front-fastening corset. I consider it
objectionable. The figure can never be so neat or slender as in an
ordinary well-laced corset. May I inquire what has become of your
correspondent Mary Blackbraid? Her partialities for gloves and wigs
brought upon her severe remarks from your numerous correspondents.
I agree with her in the glove question, and always wear them as much as
possible in the house. I find they keep the hands cooler, and in my
opinion there is no such finish to the appearance as a well-gloved hand.
Where I am now staying the ladies invariably wear them, and I have
l6o THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
heard gentlemen express their admiration of the practice. I have worn
them to sleep in for some years, and never found any inconvenience.
Pardon me trespassing so much on your space, but your interesting paper
is the only one open to our defence from the strictures of the over-
The following letter from the columns of the S^ueen contains much
matter bearing immediately on the subject, and will no doubt be of
interest to the reader : —
"Madam, — I am sure your numerous readers will thank you for
your kindness in publishing so impartially the correspondence you have
received on the subject of the corset, and as the question is one of great
importance, and moreover one on which much difference of opinion
seems to exist, I trust you will continue to give us the benefit of your
" When I read the very apropos letter of Constance, and the excellent
letter of Fanny in reply, I was quite prepared to see in your last
number some strong expressions of opinion against this most becoming
fashion ; but I think that they, as well as Eliza, need not be discouraged
by the formidable opposition they have met with, and 1 beg you will
afford me space for a few lines, in order to refute the arguments of the
anti-corset party, in your valuable journal.
"Much as I, in common with all your readers, delight in reading
Mr. Frank Buckland's articles, I really cannot agree with him in his view
of the subject. In the first place, I really must question his authority in
the matter, for I am convinced that it is only those who have experienced
the comfortable support afforded by a well-made corset who are entitled
to pronounce their opinion. What can Mr. Buckland, or any one not of
the corset-wearing sex, know of the practical operation of this indispen-
sable article of female attire? I will not attempt so arduous a task as
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. l6l
that of disproving all that Mr. Combe and his professional brethren have
written against tight-lacing ; I am even willing to admit that there may
be persons so constituted that the attainment of a graceful slenderness
would be injurious ; but these are the exceptions, not the rule. The
remarks of the faculty are founded principally on theory, backed up by
an occasional case which might very often be referred to some other
cause with equal justice. But who does not know that practice often
belies theory, or that theory is frequently at fault ? Slender waists have
been in fashion for several hundred years, and for the purposes of my
argument I will refer to a period thirty or forty years ago. No one
then thought of questioning the absolute necessity of attaining a slender
figure by the instrumentality of the corset. If, let me ask Mr. Buckland
and your other correspondents, theory be true that torture and death are
the result, how does it happen not only that there are millions of healthy
middle-aged ladies among us now, but that the female population actually
exceeds the male ? By what wonderful means have they continued to
exist and enjoy such perfect health, while such a terrible engine
of destruction as the corset was at work upon their frames ? If all that
theory said against the corset were true, not a thousand women would
now be left alive.
" I cannot avoid troubling you a little further while I descend more
into details. Spinal curvature, it is said, is caused by wearing stays.
But what kind of stays were they which produced this result, and were
no other causes discernible ? I think that in every instance it would be
found that the stays have been badly made, that they have not been
properly laced, or that the busk and materials have not been sufficiently
"In addition to this, girls are too often compelled to maintain an
erect position on a form or a music-stool for too long a time during school
hours. If the corset is properly made, a young lady may be allowed to
lean back in her chair without danger of acquiring lounging habits or
1 62 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
injuring her figure. It is to this over-tiring of the muscles that all spinal
curvature is attributable, and not to the stays, which, if properly
employed, would act as a sure preventative. Again, let me ask any one
of the opposite sex who, at any rate at the present day, do not wear
stays, whether they have never experienced 'palpitation or flushings,'
headaches, and red noses? What right has any one to make these
special attendants on small-waisted ladies ? There is no more danger of
incurring these evils than by a gentleman wearing a hat. Well may the
old lady have c forgotten' these little items in her anecdotes. The
comparison between the human frame and a watch is correct in some
respects, but it is particularly unhappy in relation to the present subject.
The works of a watch are hard and unyielding, and not being possessed
of life and power of growing, cannot adapt themselves to their outer
case. If you squeeze in the case the works will be broken and put out
of order ; far different is it with the supple and growing frame of a young
girl. If the various organs are prevented from taking a certain form or
direction, they will accommodate themselves to any other with perfect
ease. Nothing is broken or interfered with in its action. I will, of
course, allow that if a fully-grown woman were to attempt to reduce her
waist suddenly, respiration and digestion would be stopped; but it is
rarely, if ever, that a lady arrives at maturity before she has imbibed
sufficient notions of elegance and propriety to induce her to conform to
this becoming fashion to some extent. Happy indeed those who are
blessed with mothers who are wise enough to educate their daughters'
figures with an eye to their future comfort. The constant discomfort felt
by those whose clumsy waists and exuberant forms are a perpetual
bugbear to their happiness and advancement should warn mothers of the
necessity of looking to the future, and by directing their figures success-
fully while young, avoid the unsuccessful attempts to force them at an
advanced age. One word more on the question. Is a small waist
admired by the gentlemen ? Mr. Buckland, it seems, has become so
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 63
imbued with Mr. Combe's ideas against tight-lacing, that he looks upon
a slender waist with feelings evidently far from admiration. But is this
any reason or authority for concluding that every gentleman of taste is
of a like opinion ? On the contrary, I think it goes far to prove that it
is other than the younger class of gentlemen (for whom, of course, the
ladies lay their attractions) who run down the corset. Many times
in fashionable assemblies have I heard gentlemen criticising the young
ladies in such terms as these : — ' What a clumsy figure Miss is ! it
completely spoils her.' 'What a pity Miss has not a neater
figure !' and so on, and I believe there is not one young man in a
thousand who does not admire a graceful slenderness of the waist.
What young man cares to dance with girls who resemble casks in form ?
I have invariably noticed that the girls with the smallest waists are the
queens of the ball-room. I have not space to enter into the discussion
as to whether the artificial waist is more beautiful than that of the Venus
de Medici ; on such matters every one forms their own opinions. The
waist of the Venus is beautiful for the Venus, but would cease to be so
if clothed. I maintain that the comparison is not a good one, as the
circumstances are not equal. In other respects, let the ladies, then, not
be led to make themselves ungraceful and unattractive by listening to
theories which are contradicted by practice, promulgated by persons
ignorant, as far as their personal experience goes, of the operation and
effect of corsets, and taken up by ladies and gentlemen, not of the
youngest, who, like your Country Subscriber, are past the age when
the pleasantest excitements of life form topics of interest. Is it not
natural that a young lady should be anxious to present a sylph-like form
instead of appearing matronly ? There are some to whom the words
* tight lacing' suggest immediately what they are pleased to term
c torture,' * misery,' &c, but who have never taken the trouble to inquire
into the subject, preferring the far easier way of taking for granted that
all that has been said against it is true. When such would-be bene-
164 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
factors to the fair sex hear of a sudden death, or see a lady faint at a
ball or a theatre, they immediately raise the cry of £ Tight-lacing !' An
instance occurred not long ago in which, in a public journal, the sudden
death of a young lady was ascribed to this cause, but in a few days
afterwards was expressly contradicted in a paragraph of the same paper.
Do we never hear of men dying suddenly, or fainting away from over-
heat ? That small waists are the fashion admits of no doubt, for I have
myself applied to several fashionable corset-makers in London and the
principal fashionable resorts to ascertain whether it be the case. I gather
from their information that small waists are most unmistakably the
fashion; that there are more corsets made to order under eighteen
inches than over that measurement ; that the smallest size is usually
fifteen inches, though few possess so elegantly small a waist, the majority
being about seventeen or eighteen inches ; that the ladies are now
beginning to see that the front-fastening busk is not so good as the old-
fashioned kind, and have their daughters' corsets well boned. Many
also prefer shoulder-straps for the stays of growing girls, which keep
the chest expanded, and prevent their leaning too much on the busk. If
these are not too tight they are very advantageous to the figure, and the
upper part of the corset should just fit, but not be tight. A corset
made on these principles will cause no injury to health, unless the girl is
naturally of a consumptive constitution, in which case no one would think
of lacing at all tightly.
"I must apologise for this long letter, but I felt bound to take
advantage of the opportunity you afford to discuss this really important
" I remain, madam, yours,
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 65
The elegant figure of the Empress of Austria — Slender waists the fashion in Vienna — The
small size of Corsets frequently made in London — Letter from the Queen on small
waists — Remarks on the portrait of the Empress of Austria in the Exhibition —
Diminutive waist of Lady Morton — General remarks on the figure — Remarks on
figure-training by the use of stays — Mode of constructing Corsets for growing girls —
Tight-lacing abolished by the early use of well-constructed Corsets — Boarding-
school discipline and extreme tight-lacing — Letter in praise of tight Corsets — Letter
in praise of Crinoline and Corsets — Another letter on boarding-school discipline and
figure-training — The waist of fashion contrasted with that of the Venus de Medici —
A fashionably-dressed statue — Clumsy figures a serious drawback to young ladies —
Letter from a lady, who habitually laces with extreme tightness, in praise of the
Corset — Opinions of a young baronet on slender waists ; letter from a family man on
the same subject.
A S most of our readers will be aware, the much-admired Empress of
-*■ -^ Austria has been long celebrated for possessing a waist of sixteen
inches in circumference, and a friend of ours, who has recently had unusual
opportunities afforded for judging of the fashionable world of Vienna,
assures us that waists of equal slenderness are by no means uncommon.
We are also informed by one of the first West-End corset-makers that
sixteen inches is a size not unfrequently made in London. Much
valuable and interesting information can be gathered from the following
letter from a talented correspondent of the Queen a few months ago : —
"Corsets and Small Waists.
"lama constant reader of the Queen, and look forward with anxiety
for more of the very interesting letters on the corset question which you
are so obliging as to insert in your paper. I know many who take as much
pleasure in reading them as myself, for the subject is one on which both
l66 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
health and beauty greatly depend. All who visited the picture-gallery
in the Exhibition of 1862 must have seen an exquisitely-painted portrait
of the beautiful Empress of Austria, and though it did not show the
waist in the most favourable position, some idea may be formed of its
elegant slenderness and easy grace. Many were the remarks made upon
it by all classes of critics while I seated myself opposite the picture for a
few minutes. I should like any one who maintains that small waists are
not generally admired to have taken up the position which I did for half-
an-hour, and I am sure she would soon find her opinion unsupported by
facts ; your correspondents, however, are at fault in supposing that six-
teen inches is the smallest waist that the world has almost ever known.
Lady Babbage, in her Collection of Curiosities, tells us that in a portrait of
Lady Morton, in the possession of Lord Dillon, the waist cannot exceed
ten or twelve inches in circumference, and at the largest part imme-
diately beneath the armpits not more than twenty-four, and the immense
length of the figure seems to give it the appearance of even greater
slenderness. Catherine de Medici considered the standard of perfection
to be thirteen inches. It is scarcely to be supposed that any lady of the
present day possesses such an absurdly small waist as thirteen inches, but
I am certain that not a few could be found whose waistband does not
exceed fifteen inches and three-quarters or sixteen inches. Much
depends on the height and width of the shoulders ; narrow shoulders
generally admit of a small waist, and many tall women are naturally so
slender as to be able to show a small waist with very little lacing. It is
needless to remark how much depends on the corset. Your correspon-
dent, A. H. Turnour, says that the long corsets, if well pulled in at the
waist, compress one cruelly all the way up, and cause the shoulders to
deport themselves awkwardly and stiffly. Now, no corset will be able
to do this if constructed as it should be. I believe the great fault to be
that when the corset is laced on it is very generally open an inch or so
from top to bottom. The consequence of this is, that when the wearer
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 67
is sitting down, and the pressure on the waist the greatest, the tendency-
is to pull the less tightly drawn lace at the top of the corset tighter ; on
changing the posture this does not right itself, and consequently an
unnecessary and injurious compression round the chest is experienced.
Now, if the corset, when fitted, were so made that it should meet all the
way, or at any rate above and below the waist, when laced on, this evil
would be entirely avoided, and absence of compression round the upper
part of the chest would give an increased appearance of slenderness to
the waist and allow the lungs as much play as the waistbands. There
seems to be an idea that when the corset is made to meet it gives a
stiffness to the figure. In the days of buckram this might be the case,
but no such effect need be feared from the light and flexible stays of the
present day, and the fault which frequently leads to the fear of wearing
corsets which do not meet is, that the formation of the waist is not
begun early enough. The consequence of this is, that the waist has to
be compressed into a slender shape after it has been allowed to swell, and
the stays are therefore made so as to allow of being laced tighter and
tighter. Now I am persuaded that much inconvenience is caused by
this practice, which might be entirely avoided by the following simple
plan, which I have myself tried with my own daughters, and have found
to answer admirably. At the age of seven I had them fitted with stays
without much bone and a flexible busk, and these were made to meet
from top to bottom when laced, and so as not to exercise the least pres-
sure round the chest and beneath the waist, and only a very slight
pressure at the waist, just enough to show off the figure and give it a
roundness. To prevent the stays from slipping, easy shoulder-straps were
added. In front, extending from the top more than half way to the
waist, were two sets of lace-holes, by which the stays could be enlarged
round the upper part. As my daughters grew, these permitted of my
always preventing any undue pressure, but I always laced the stays so as
to meet behind. When new ones were required they were made exactly
1 68 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
the same size at the waist, but as large round the upper part as the
gradual enlargement had made the former pair. They were also of
course made a little longer, and the position of the shoulder-straps
slightly altered ; by these means their figures were directed instead of
forced into a slender shape ; no inconvenience was felt, and my
daughters, I am happy to say, are straight, and enjoy perfect health,
while the waist of the eldest is eighteen inches, and that of the youngest
seventeen. I am convinced that my plan is the most reasonable one that
can be adopted. By this means ' tight-lacing will be abolished, for no
tight-lacing or compression is required, and the child, being accustomed
to the stays from an early age, does not experience any of the incon-
veniences which are sometimes felt by those who do not adopt them till
twelve or fourteen.
" A Former Correspondent (Edinburgh)."
The advisability of training instead of forcing the figure into
slenderness is now becoming almost universally admitted by those who
have paid any attention to the subject ; yet it appears from the following
letters, which appeared in the Englishwoman } s Domestic Magazine of
January and February, 1868, that the corset, even when employed at
a comparatively late period of life, is capable of reducing the size of the
waist in an extraordinary manner, without causing the serious con-
sequences which it has so long been the custom to associate with the
practice of tight-lacing.
A Tight-Lacer expresses herself to the following effect : — " Most
of your correspondents advocate the early use of the corset as the
best means to secure a slender waist. No doubt this is the best and
most easy mode, but still I think there are many young ladies who
have never worn tight stays who might have small waists even now if
they would only give themselves the trouble. I did not commence to
lace tightly until I was married, * nor should I have done so then had
not my husband been so particularly fond of a small waist ; but I was
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 69
determined not to lose one atom of his affection for the sake of a
little trouble. I could not bear to think of him liking any one else's
figure better than mine, consequently, although my waist measured
twenty-three inches, I went and ordered a pair of stays, made very strong
and filled with stiff bone, measuring only fourteen inches round the waist.
These, with the assistance of my maid, I put on, and managed the first
day to lace my waist in to eighteen inches. At night I slept in my
corset without loosing the lace in the least. The next day my maid got
my waist to seventeen inches, and so on, an inch smaller every day, until
she got them to meet. I wore them regularly without ever taking them
off, having them tightened afresh every day, as the laces might stretch a
little. They did not open in front, so that I could not undo them if I
had wanted. For the first few days the pain was very great, but as
soon as the stays were laced close, and I had worn them so for a few
days, I began to care nothing about it, and in a month or so I would not
have taken them off on any account, for I quite enjoyed the sensation,
and when I let my husband see me with a dress to fit I was amply repaid
for my trouble ; and although I am now grown older, and the fresh
bloom of youth is gone from my cheek, still my figure remains the same,
which is a charm age will not rob me of. I have never had cause to
regret the step I took."
Another lady says — " A correspondent in the October number of
your magazine states that her waist is only thirteen inches round, but
she does not state her height. My waist is only twelve inches round ;
but then, although I am eighteen years old, I am only four feet five
inches in height, so that my waist is never noticed as small ; while my
elder sister (whose height is five feet eight inches) is considered to have
a very nice figure, though her waist is twenty-three inches round. I am
glad to have an opportunity of expressing my opinions on the subject of
tight-lacing. I quite agree with those who think it perfectly necessary
with the present style of dress (which style I hope is likely to continue).
I70 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
I believe every one admires the effect of tight-lacing, though they may not
approve in theory. My father always used to declaim loudly against stays
of any kind, so my sister and I were suffered to grow up without any
attention being paid to our figures, and with all our clothes made
perfectly loose, till my sister was eighteen and I fifteen years old, when
papa, after accompanying us to some party, made some remarks on the
clumsiness of our figures, and the ill-fitting make of our dresses.
Fortunately, it was not too late. Mamma immediately had well-fitting
corsets made for us, and as we were both anxious to have small waists we
tightened each other's laces four and five times a day for more than a
year ; now we only tighten them (after the morning) when we are going
to a party."
As it has been most justly remarked, no description of evidence can
be so conclusive as that of those whose daily and hourly experience
brings them in contact with the matter under discussion, and we append
here a letter from a correspondent to the Englishwoman? s Domestic
Magazine of May, 1867, giving her boarding-school experience in the
matter of extreme tight-lacing : —
Nora says — "I venture to trouble you with a few particulars on
the subject of c tight-lacing,' having seen a letter in your March number
inviting correspondence on the matter. I was placed at the age of
fifteen at a fashionable school in London, and there it was the custom
for the waists of the pupils to be reduced one inch per month until they
were what the lady principal considered small enough. When I left
school at seventeen, my waist measured only thirteen inches, it having
been formerly twenty-three inches in circumference. Every morning one
of the maids used to come to assist us to dress, and a governess super-
intended to see that our corsets were drawn as tight as possible. After
the first few minutes every morning I felt no pain, and the only ill effects
apparently were occasional headaches and loss of appetite. I should be
glad if you will inform me if it is possible for girls to have a waist of
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
fashionable size and yet preserve their health. Very few of my fellow-
pupils appeared to suffer, except the pain caused by the extreme tight-
ness of the stays. In one case where the girl was stout and largely
built, two strong maids were obliged to use their utmost force to make
her waist the size ordered by the lady principal — viz., seventeen inches —
and though she fainted twice while the stays were being made to meet,
she wore them without seeming injury to her health, and before she left
school she had a waist measuring only fourteen inches, yet she never
suffered a day's illness. Generally all the blame is laid by parents on
the principal of the school, but it is often a subject of the greatest
rivalry among the girls to see which can get the smallest waist, and often
while the servant was drawing in the waist of my friend to the utmost
of her strength, the young lady, though being tightened till she had
hardly breath to speak, would urge the maid to pull the stays yet closer,
and tell her not to let the lace slip in the least. I think this is a subject
which is not sufficiently understood. Though I have always heard
tight-lacing condemned, I have never suffered any ill effects myself, and,
as a rule, our school was singularly free from illness. By publishing
this side of the question in the Englishwo?narfs Domestic Magazine you
will greatly oblige."
Cases like the foregoing are most important and remarkable, as they
show most indisputably that loss of health is not so inseparably associated
with even the most unflinching application of the corset as the world has
been led to suppose. It rather appears that although a very considerable
amount of inconvenience and uneasiness is experienced by those who are
unaccustomed to the reducing and restraining influences of the corset,
when adopted at rather a late period of growth, they not only in
a short time cease to suffer, but of their own free will continue the
practice and become partial to it. Thus writes an Edinburgh lady, who
incloses her card, to the Englishwoman 1 s Domestic Magazine of March,
I 7 2
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
" I have been abroad for the last four years, during which I left my
daughter at a large and fashionable boarding-school near London. I
sent for her home directly I arrived, and, having had no bad accounts of
her health during my absence, I expected to see a fresh rosy girl of
seventeen come bounding to welcome me. What, then, was my surprise
to see a tall, pale young lady glide slowly in with measured gait and
languidly embrace me ; when she had removed her mantle I understood
at once what had been mainly instrumental in metamorphosing my merry
romping girl to a pale fashionable belle. Her waist had, during the
four years she had been at school, been reduced to such absurdly small
dimensions that I could easily have clasped it with my two hands. ' How
could you be so foolish,' I exclaimed, * as to sacrifice your health for the
sake of a fashionable figure ?' ' Please don't blame me, mamma,' she
replied, 'I assure you I would not have voluntarily submitted to the
torture I have suffered for all the admiration in the world.' She then
told me how the most merciless system of tight-lacing was the rule of
the establishment, and how she and her forty or fifty fellow-pupils had
been daily imprisoned in vices of whalebone drawn tight by the muscular
arms of sturdy waiting-maids, till the fashionable standard of tenuity
was attained. The torture at first was, she declared, often intolerable ;
but all entreaties were vain, as no relaxation of the cruel laces was
allowed during the day under any pretext except decided illness. 'But
why did you not complain to me at first ?' I inquired. ' As soon as
I found to what a system of torture I was condemned,' she replied,
C I wrote a long letter to you describing my sufferings, and praying you
to take me away. But the lady principal made it a rule to revise all
letters sent by, or received by, the pupils, and when she saw mine she
not only refused to let it pass, but punished me severely for rebelling
against the discipline of the school.' 'At least you will now obtain
relief from your sufferings,' I exclaimed, 'for you shall not go back
to that school any more.' On attempting to discontinue the tight-lacing,
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. I 73
however, my daughter found that she had been so weakened by the
severe pressure of the last four years that her muscles were powerless to
support her, and she has therefore been compelled to lace as tight as
ever, or nearly so. She says, however, that she does not suffer much
inconvenience now, or, indeed, after the first two years — so wonderful is
the power of Nature to accommodate herself to circumstances. The
mischief is done; her muscles have been, so to speak, murdered, and
she must submit for life to be incased in a stiff panoply of whalebone
and steel, and all this torture and misery for what ? — merely to attract
admiration for her small waist. I called on the lady principal of the
establishment the next day, and was told that very few ladies objected
to their daughters having their figures improved, that small waists were
just now as fashionable as ever, and that no young lady could go into
good society with a coarse, clumsy waist like a rustic, that she had
always given great satisfaction by her system, which she assured me
required unremitting perseverance and strictness, owing to the obstinacy
of young girls, and the difficulty of making them understand the
importance of a good figure. Finding that I could not touch the heart
of this female inquisitor, who was so blinded by fashion, I determined to
write to you and inform your readers of the system adopted in fashion-
able boarding-schools, so that if they do not wish their daughters
tortured into wasp-waisted invalids they may avoid sending them to
schools where the corset-screw is an institution of the establishment."
And on the appearance of her letter it was replied to by another
lady, who writes as follows : —
"In reply to the invitation from the lady from Edinburgh to a
discussion on the popular system amongst our sex of compression of the
waist, when requisite to attain elegance of figure, I beg to say that I am
inclined, from the tone of her letter, to consider her an advocate of the
system she at first sight appears to condemn. This conviction of mine
may arise from my own partiality to the practice of tight-lacing, but the
174 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
manner in which she puts the question almost inclines me to believe that
she is, as a corset-maker, financially interested in the general adoption of
the corset-screw. Her account of the whole affair seems so artificial, so
made up for a purpose, so to speak, that I, for one, am inclined to totally
discredit it. A waist e easily clasped with two hands.' Ye powers !
what perfection ! how delightful ! I declare that ever since I read that I
have worn a pair of stays that I had rejected for being too small for me,
as they did not quite meet behind (and I can't bear a pair that I cannot
closely lace), and have submitted to an extra amount of muscular
exertion from my maid in order to approach, if ever so distantly, the
delightful dimensions of two handsful. Then, again, how charmingly she
insinuates that if we will only persevere, only submit to a short
probationary period of torture, the hated compression (but desired
attenuation) will have become a second nature to us, that not only
will it not inconvenience us, but possibly we shall be obliged, for
comfort's sake itself, to continue the practice. Now, madam, as a part
of the present whole of modern dress, every one must admit that
a slender waist is a great acquisition, and from my own experience and
the experience of several young lady friends similarly addicted to guide
me, I beg to pronounce the so-called evils of tight-lacing to be a mere
bugbear and so much cant. Every woman has the remedy in her own
hands. If she feels the practice to be an injury to her, she can
but discontinue it at any time. To me the sensation of being tightly
laced in a pair of elegant, well-made, tightly-fitting corsets is superb, and
I have never felt any evil to arise therefrom. I rejoice in quite a
collection of these much-abused objects — in silk, satin, and coutil of every
style and colour — and never feel prouder or happier, so far as matters of
the toilette are concerned, than when I survey in myself the fascinating
undulations of outline.
Then follows a letter rather calculated to cast doubt on the subject
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 75
of the sufferings of the young lady whose case has been described, from
a lady who, although possessing a small waist, knows nothing of them.
Thus she writes : —
" Please let me join in the all-absorbing discussion you have intro-
duced at the Englishwoman's monthly Conversazione, and let me first
thank Staylace for her capital letter. I quite agree with her in
suspecting the story of the young lady at the boarding-school to be
overdrawn a little. Would the young lady herself oblige us with a
description of her 'tortures,' as I and several of my friends who follow
the present fashion of small waists are curious to know something of
them, having never experienced these terrible sufferings, though my
waistband measures only eighteen inches ? The truth is, there are always
a number of fussy middle-aged people who (with the best intentions, no
doubt) are always abusing some article of female dress. The best of it
is, these benevolent individuals are usually of that sex whose costume
precludes them from making a personal trial of the articles they
condemn. Now it is the crinoline which draws forth their indignant
outcries, now the corset, and now the chignon. They know not from
their own experience how the crinoline relieves us from the weight of
many under-skirts, and prevents them from clinging to us while walking,
and they have never felt the comfortable support of a well-made corset.
Yet they decry the use of the first as unaccountable, and of the second
as suicidal. Let me tell them, however, that the ladies themselves judge
from practice and not from theory, and if the opponents of the corset
require proof of this, let me remind them that compression of the waist
has been more or less universal throughout the civilised world for three
or four centuries, in spite of reams of paper and gallons of printing-ink.
I may add that, for my own part, I have always laced tightly, and have
always enjoyed good health. Allow me to recommend ladies to have
their corsets made to measure, and if they do not feel they suffer any
inconvenience, they may certainly take the example of your clever
I76 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
correspondent Staylace, and look upon the outcry as a 'bugbear and
so much cant.'
Thus called on, the young lady herself writes and confirms, as it will
be seen, the statements of others, that the late use of the corset is the
main source of pain on its first adoption ; and the statement she makes
that her waist is so much admired that she sometimes forgets the pain
passed through in attaining it, coupled with the confession that she is
not in ill-health, gives her letter strong significance. Here it is in its
integrity : —
"In last month's number of your valuable magazine you were kind
enough to publish a letter from my mamma on the subject of tight-lacing,
and as your correspondent Staylace says she is inclined to think the
whole story made up for a purpose, mamma has requested me to write
and confirm what she stated in her letter. It seems wonderful to me
how your correspondent can lace so tightly and never feel any inconve-
nience. It may be, very likely, owing to her having begun very young.
In my case I can only say I suffered sometimes perfect torture from
my stays, especially after dinner, not that I ate heartily, for that I found
impossible, even if we had been allowed to do so by our schoolmistress,
who considered it unladylike. The great difference between your corre-
spondent Staylace and myself seems to be that she was incased in corsets
at an early age, and thus became gradually accustomed to tight-lacing,
while I did not wear them till I went to school at fourteen, and I did
not wear them voluntarily. Of course it is impossible to say whether I
underwent greater pressure than she has. I think I must have done so,
for my waist had grown large before it was subjected to the lacing, and
had to be reduced to its present tenuity, whereas, if she began stays
earlier, that would have prevented her figure from growing so large.
Perhaps Staylace will be so kind as to say whether she began stays
early, or at any rate before fourteen, and what is the size of her waist
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 77
and her height ? One reason why she does not feel any inconvenience
from tight corsets may be that, when she feels disposed, she may loosen
them, and thus prevent any pain from coming on. But when I was at
school I was not allowed to loosen them in the least, however much they
distressed me, so that what was in the morning merely a feeling of
irksome pressure, became towards the end of the day a regular torture.
I quite admit that slender waists are beautiful — in fact, my own waist is
so much admired that I sometimes forget the pain I underwent in
attaining it. I am also quite ready to confess I am not in ill-health,
though I often feel languid and disinclined for walking out. Nor do I
think a girl whose constitution is sound would suffer any injury to her
health from moderate lacing, but I must beg that you will allow me to
declare that when stays are not worn till fourteen years of age, very
tight lacing causes absolute torture for the first few months, and it was
principally to deter ladies from subjecting their daughters to this pain in
similar cases that mamma wrote to you. I am sure any young lady who
has (like myself) begun tight-lacing rather late will corroborate what I
have said, and I hope some will come forward and do so, now you
so kindly give the opportunity."
Much ill-deserved blame has been from time to time cast on the
lady principals of fashionable schools for insisting on the strict use of the
corset by the young ladies in their charge. The following letter from a
schoolmistress of great experience, and another from a young lady who
has finished her education at a fashionable boarding-school, will at once
serve to show that the measures adopted by the heads of these estab-
lishments for the obtainment of elegant figures are in the end fully
appreciated by those who have been fortunate enough to profit by them.
A Schoolmistress Correspondent says — " As a regular subscriber to
your valuable magazine, I see you have invited your numerous readers
to discuss the subject brought forward by a correspondent in Edinburgh,
and as the principal of a large ladies' school in that city, I feel sure you
I78 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
will kindly allow me space to say a few words in reply to her letter. In
the first place it must be apparent that your correspondent committed a
great mistake in placing her daughter at a fashionable school if she did
not wish her to become a fashionable belle, or she should at least have
given instructions that her daughter should not have her figure trained
in what every one knows is the fashionable style. For my own part I
have always paid particular attention to the figures of the young ladies
intrusted to my care, and being fully convinced that if the general health
is properly attended to, corsets are far from being the dreadfully hurtful
things some people imagine, I have never hesitated to employ this most
important and elegant article of dress, except in one case where the pupil
was of a consumptive tendency, and I was specially requested not to
allow her to dress at all tightly. All my pupils enjoy good health, my
great secret being regular exercise, a point which is almost always
disregarded. It appears from your correspondent's letter that the young
lady did not experience any inconvenience after the first two years she
was at the school, nor does her mother say her health was affected. She
only complains that she is no longer a ' romping girl.' Now, no young
lady of eighteen who expects to move in fashionable society would wish
to be thought a romping schoolgirl. With regard to the slight pain in
the muscles which the young lady described as ' torture,' this was no doubt
caused by her not having been accustomed by degrees to a close-fitting
dress before she went to the school. I find that girls who have
commenced the use of stays at an early age, and become gradually used
to them, do not experience any uneasiness when they are worn tighter at
fourteen or fifteen. There can be no doubt that a slender figure is as
much admired as ever, and always will be so. The present fashion of
short waists is admitted on all hands to be very ugly, and will soon go
out. Those girls, then, who have not had their figures properly attended
to while growing will be unable to reduce their waists when the fashion
changes, whereas, by proper care now, they will be able to adopt the
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 79
fashion of longer waists without any inconvenience. I trust you will
allow us schoolmistresses fair play in this important matter, and insert
this, or part of it, in your magazine."
Mignon says — "Dear Mrs. Englishwoman, — 1 beg — I pray —
that you will not close your delightful Conversazione to the tight-lacing
question : it is an absorbing one ; hundreds, thousands of your young
lady readers are deeply interested in this matter, and the subscribers to
your excellent magazine are increasing daily, to my own knowledge, by
reason of this interesting controversy ; pray wait a little, and you will see
how the tight-lacers and their gentlemen admirers will rally round the
banner that has been unfurled. There is an attempt being made to
introduce the hideous fashion of the * Empire,' as it is called. Why
should we, who have been disciplined at home and at school, and laced
tighter and tighter month after month, until our waists have become
* small by degrees and beautifully less,' be expected to hide our figures
(which we know are admired) under such atrocious drapery ? My stay
and dress maker both tell me that it is only the ill-formed and waistless
ones that have taken to the fashion ; such, of course, are well pleased,
and will have no objection to have their waistbands as high as their arm-
pits. Angular and rigid figures have always pretended to sneer at tight-
lacers, but any one of them would give half, nay, their whole fortune to
attain to such small dimensions as some of your correspondents describe.
I shall keep my waist where nature has placed it, and where art has
improved it, for my own comfort, and because a certain friend has said
that he never could survive if it were any larger or shorter. My waist
remains just as it was a year and a-half ago, when I left school, where
in the course of three years it was by imperceptible degrees laced from
twenty to fifteen inches, not only without injury to health but with great
satisfaction and comfort to myself."
It has been much the fashion amongst those who have written in
condemnation of the use of the corset to contrast the figure of the
Venus de Medici with that of a fashionably-dressed lady of the pre-
sent day ; but the comparison is anything but a happy one, as it would
be quite as reasonable to insist that because the sandalled and stocking-
less foot of the lady of Ancient Greece was statuesque in contour
when forming a portion of a statue, it should be substituted for the
fashionable boot or slipper and silk stocking of the present day. That
perfection itself in the sculptor's art when draped in fashionable attire
would become supremely grotesque and ridiculous was not long since
fully proved by actual experiment. A former contributor to the columns
of the Queen, who at one time followed the medical profession, felt so
convinced of the claims to admiration possessed by the classic order of
form, that he obtained a copy of the Greek Slave, and had it draped by a
first-rate milliner, who made use of all the modern appliances of the
toilet, corset and crinoline included. The result was that dress made a
perfect fright of her, and the disappointed experimentalist candidly
confessed that he did not like her half as well as he had done. The
waist was disproportionately thick, and the whole tout ensemble dowdy
in the extreme. No fallacy can be greater than to apply the rules of
ancient art to modern costume. Thus writes an artist in the English-
woman's Domestic Magazine of September, 1867: —
" I do not for a moment deny the truth of your artist correspondent's
assertions, for I consider, as every one must, that the proportions of the
human body are the most beautiful in creation (where all is beautiful
and correct), but the great mistake which so many make is this. In
civilised countries the body is always clothed; and that clothing,
especially of the ladies of European nations, completely hides the contour
of the body. The effect of this is to give great clumsiness to' the waist
when that part of the person is of its natural size. Let any one make a
fair and unprejudiced trial, such as this : let him get a statuette of some
celebrated antique, the Venus de Medici or the Greek Slave, and have
it dressed in an ordinary dress of the present day, and see what the
effect really is. Until fashion, in its ever-changing round, returns to the
costume of Ancient Greece or Rome, we can never expect to persuade
ladies not to compress their waists merely on the score of beauty ; and
as several of your correspondents have shown that a moderate compres-
sion is not so injurious as some supposed, there is no chance of the
corset becoming an obsolete article of female dress. It has been in use
for seven or eight hundred years, and now that its form and construction
are so much modified and improved, there need be no longer an outcry
against it ; indeed, outcry has for centuries failed to affect it, though
other articles of dress have become in their turn obsolete, a clear proof
that there is something more than mere arbitrary fashion in its hold upon
the fair sex."
Another gentleman, not an artist, but whose sisters now suffer from
all the annoyances consequent on clumsy, ill-trained figures, thus writes to
the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine of September, 1867 : —
" Though the subject on which I propose to address to you a few
observations hardly concerns a man, I hope you will allow me a little
space in your excellent journal to express my views upon it. I have
been much interested by reading the correspondence on the subject of
slender waists, and the means used for attaining them. Now, there can
be no doubt that gentlemen admire those figures the most which have
attained the greatest slenderness. I think there is no more deplorable
sight than a large and clumsy waist ; and as nature, without assistance
from art, seldom produces a really small waist, I think those mothers and
schoolmistresses who insist upon their daughters or pupils between the
ages of ten and seventeen wearing well-made corsets, and having them
tightly laced, confer upon the young ladies a great benefit, which, though
they may not appreciate at the time, they will when they go out into
society. Certainly some of your correspondents seem to have fallen into
the hands of schoolmistresses thoroughly aware of the advantages of a
good figure — a waist that two hands can easily clasp is certainly a marvel.
I never had the good fortune to see such a one, yet one of your corre-
spondents assures us that her daughter's was no larger than that. Nora,
too, says that her waist only measured thirteen inches when she left
school ; this seems to me to be miraculously small. Most gentlemen do
not think much about the means used for attaining a fashionable figure,
and I should not have done so either if I had not heard it a good deal
discussed in my family, where my sisters were never allowed to lace at
all tightly, the consequence of which is, that now that they are grown
up they have very clumsy figures, much to their regret ; but it is too
late to alter them now. As doctors seem to think that the dangers of
tight-lacing have been much exaggerated, and as I know many ladies
with very slender waists enjoying quite as good health as their more
strongly built sisters, I would urge upon all who wish to have good
figures not to be deterred by alarmists from endeavouring gradually to
attain an elegant shape."
It is most remarkable that, notwithstanding the number of letters
which have been published casting condemnation and ridicule on those
who wear corsets, not one can we discover containing the personal
experiences of those who have been anything but temporary sufferers
from even their extreme use, whilst such letters as the following, which
appeared in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine of August, 1867,
are of a nature to lead to the conclusion that unless the germs of disease
of some kind are rooted in the system, a well-made and perfectly-fitting
corset may be worn with impunity, even when habitually laced with con-
siderable tightness. The lady thus gives her own experiences and those
of her daughters : —
" From the absence of any correspondence on the all-important topic
of tight-lacing in your August number, I very much fear that the subject
has come to an end. If so, many other subscribers besides myself will
be very sorry for it. I cannot tell you what pleasure it gave me to see
the sentiments that were expressed by so many who, like myself, are
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 83
addicted to the practice of tight-lacing, and as for many years I have
been in the habit of lacing extremely tight, I trust that you will allow
me, by inserting this or part of it, to make known that I have never
suffered any pain or illness from it. In the days when I was a school-
girl, stays were worn much stiffer and higher than the flimsy things now
used, and were, besides, provided with shoulder-straps, so that to be
very tightly incased in them was a much more serious affair than at the
present day.* But, nevertheless, I remember our governess would insist
on the greatest possible amount of constriction being used, and always
twice a day our stays were tightened still more. A great amount of
exercise was inculcated, which perhaps did away with any ill effects this
extreme tight-lacing might have occasioned, but while at school I
imbibed a liking for the practice, and have ever since insisted on my
maid lacing me as tightly as she possibly can. I quite agree with Stay-
lace in saying that to be tightly laced in a pair of tight-fitting stays is a
most superb sensation. My two daughters, aged respectively sixteen
and eighteen, are brought up in the same way, and would not consider
themselves properly dressed unless their stays were drawn together.
They can bear me out in my favourable opinion of tight-lacing, and their
good health speaks volumes in its praise. I hope, madam, you will
kindly insert this letter in your valuable and largely-circulated magazine."
Many opponents to the use of the corset have strongly urged the
somewhat weak argument, that ladies with slender waists are not gene-
rally admired by the gentlemen. That question has been ably dealt
with in one or two of the preceding letters from ladies, and it is but fair
* Fairholt remarks, in speaking of the discipline observed in schools during the reign of
George III. — " It was the fashion to educate girls in stiffness of manner at all public
schools, and particularly to cultivate a fall of the shoulders and an upright set of the bust.
The top of the steel stay busk had a long stocking-needle attached to it to prevent girls
from spoiling their shape by stooping too much over their needlework. This I have heard
from a lady since dead who had often felt these gentle hints and lamented their disuse."
184 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
to them that the opinions of both the young and old of the male sex
(candidly communicated to the columns of the Englishwoman: 's Domestic
Magazine) should be added to the weight of evidence in favour of
almost universal admiration for a slender and well-rounded waist. Thus
writes a young baronet in the number for October, 1867 : —
"As you have given your readers the benefit of Another Corre-
spondent's excellent letter will you kindly allow another member of the
sterner sex to give his opinion on the subject of small waists ? Those
who have endeavoured to abolish this most becoming fashion have not
hesitated to declare that gentlemen do not care for a slender figure, but
that, on the contrary, their only feeling on beholding a waist of eighteen
inches is one of pity and contempt. Now so far from this being the
case, there is not one gentleman in a thousand who is not charmed with
the sight. Elderly gentlemen, no doubt, may be found who look upon
such things as c vanity and vexation of spirit ;' but is it for these that
young ladies usually cultivate their charms ? There is one suggestion I
should be glad to make if you will permit me, and that is that all those
ladies who possess that most elegant attraction, a slender waist, should
not hide it so completely by shawls or loose paletots when on the
promenade or in the street. When by good-luck I chance to meet
a lady who has the good taste, I may say the kindness, to show her
tapering waist by wearing a close-fitting paletot, I not unfrequently turn
to admire, and so far from thinking of the means used to obtain the
result, I am held spellbound by the beauty of the figure."
That elderly gentlemen are by no means as indifferent to the
attractions of elegant slenderness as our young correspondent supposes,
will be best shown by a letter from a family man on the subject,
communicated to the above journal, November, 1867. He says —
"I have read with much interest the correspondence on the above
subject in the Englishwoman's Conversazione for several months past,
having accidentally met with one of the numbers of your magazine in a
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 85
friend's house, and have since regularly taken it, although not previously
a subscriber. As an ardent admirer of small waists in ladies, I wish to
record for the satisfaction of those who possess them the fact, which is
sometimes disputed, that the pains bestowed in attaining a slender figure
are not in vain so far as we gentlemen are concerned, and some of us
are positively absurd in our excessive admiration of this particular female
beauty. Poets and novelists are perpetually introducing heroines with
tiny waists and impossible feet, and if they are to portray female loveli-
ness in all its attributes, they could not well omit two such essential
points, and I take it their ideal is not an unfair criterion of the taste of
the public at large. I am delighted to learn from very clear evidence
put forward by your many correspondents that ' small waists' are attain-
able by most ladies at little or no inconvenience, and that those of the
clumsier build are willing to suffer a certain amount of pain if necessary
in reducing their bulky figures to graceful proportions, and, above all,
that this can be done without injury to health, for after all it would be
a dearly-purchased charm if health were sacrificed. Some fifteen or
twenty years ago, I recollect the word 'stays' was uttered as though a
certain amount of disgrace attached to the wearer, and * tight-lacing*
was looked on as a crime ; but I am glad to see that a reaction is setting
in, and that ladies are not afraid to state openly that 'they lace very
tightly,' and many of them declare the sensation of being laced as tightly
as possible as positively a -pleasurable o?ie. I may say that personally
I feel that every lady of my acquaintance, or with whom I may come
in contact, who does so places me under a direct obligation. I will go
further than your correspondent, A Young Baronet, and say that when-
ever I meet a young lady who possesses the charm of a small waist, and
has the good taste to wear the tight-fitting dress now fashionable for the
promenade, I make it a point to see her pretty figure more than once,
and have often gone considerably out of my way to do so. Although
married years and years ago, I am still a slave to a c little waist, 9 and I
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
am proud to say my wife humours my whim, and her waist is decidedly
a small one. I will, therefore, add my experience to that of others
(more competent to give an opinion, having experienced tight-lacing in
their own proper persons), and state that she never enjoyed better health
than when her waist was the smallest, and I shall be much disappointed
if her daughters, when they ^ come out,'' do not emulate their mother's
slender figure. By keeping your Conversazione open to the advocates
of tight-lacing, and thoroughly ventilating the subject, you will, in my
opinion, confer a benefit on the rising generation of young ladies, whose
mammas, in too many instances, are so prejudiced against the use of the
corset that they permit their daughters to grow up into clumsy,
awkward young women, to their own disgust and great detriment in the
" I am, madam, your obedient servant,
The Fasfiion of 1865.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 89
The elegance of dress mainly dependent on the Corset — Fashion and dress of 1865 — r ^" ne
short-waisted dresses and trains of 1867 — Tight Corsets needed for short waists —
Letter on the figure — Description of a peculiar form of Corset worn by some ladies
of fashion in France — Proportions of the figure and size of the waist considered —
The point at which the waist should be formed — Remarks of the older writers on
stays — Corsets and high-heeled shoes denounced — Alarming diseases said to be
produced by wearing high-heeled shoes — Mortality amongst the female sex not on
the increase — Extraordinary statistics of the Corset trade — The Corset of the present
day contrasted with that of the olden time.
TTrE could very easily add letters enough to occupy the remaining
portion of this work, all incontestably proving that slender waists
are, notwithstanding that which some few writers have urged to the
contrary, held in high esteem by the great majority of the sterner sex.
Without the aid of the corset, it has been very fairly argued, no
dress of the present day could be worn, unless its fair possessor was
willing to submit to the withering contempt of merciless society. The
annexed illustration represents a lady dressed in the fashion of the
close of 1865, and there are few who would be unwilling to admit
its elegance and good taste. One glance at the contour of the figure is
sufficient to show the full influence of the modern form of corset on the
adjustment of this style of costume, and it would be a waste of both
time and space to represent the figure in its uncultivated form similarly
arrayed. In 1867, we find a strong tendency towards the short waists,
low dresses, and long trailing trains of old times, and we are forcibly
reminded, when contemplating the passing caprice, of the lines from a
parody on the "Banks of Banna" —
" Shepherds, I have lost my waist,
Have you seen my body ?"
I90 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
Still the waist is by no means suffered to remain perdu, but, as in
1827, has to be laced with very considerable tightness to compensate
the eye for its loss of taperness and length. The annexed illustration
represents a lady of fashion of 1867, and it would be a perfect
work of supererogation to ask our readers how a lady so dressed would
look " unlaced and unconfined." The ladies themselves are by far the
best judges of the matter, and the following letter from the English-
woman's Domestic Magazine will show that the corset has to play an
important part in the now-existing style of dress. Thus writes a lady
who signs herself Edina : —
"Allow me to occupy a small portion of your valuable space with
the subject of stays. I quite agree with A Young Baronet that all. those
ladies who possess that most elegant attraction, a slender waist, should
not hide it so completely by shawls whenever they promenade. Excuse
my offering a few remarks to facilitate that desirable object, a handsome
figure. Ladies, when dressing for the afternoon walk or ride, or the
evening display, when putting on their stays at first, should not lace
them quite tight ; in about a quarter of an hour they might again
tighten them, and in the course of half-an-hour or so lace them to the
requisite tightness. They may fancy in this way there is no sudden
compression of the waist, and the figure gets more easily accustomed to
tight-lacing. Occasionally, in France, ladies who are very particular
about their figures have their corsets made in three pieces, laced down
the sides as well as behind, and cut away over the hips ; the holes for
the laces are very numerous and close together. This form of corset
offers great facilities for the most perfect adjustment to the figure, as
well as power of tight-lacing when required, and perfect ease in walking
or dancing. I may add that, in order to insure a good fit and to keep
it properly in its place, the busk in front, and the whalebones behind,
are made somewhat longer than the present fashion. Perhaps the lady
in your September number, who signs herself An Inveterate Tight-Lacer,
The Fashion ok ISO"
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 93
might find a trial of a corset made in this form a great boon as well as a
comfort in tight-lacing."
Practical hints such as these will not fail to be of interest to the
reader. Numerous inquiries, as will be seen on reference to the fore-
going correspondence, have been made as to what circumference the
waist should be to meet the requirements of elegance.
It must be borne in mind, when dealing with this question, that
height and breadth of shoulder have much to do with proportionate
slenderness of waist. A lady who is tall and wide-shouldered would
appear very neatly shaped with a waist laced to twenty or twenty-one
inches, whilst with a slight, narrow form of figure that size would carry
the appearance of much clumsiness with it. Madame La Sante says —
"A waist may vary in circumference from seventeen to twenty-three
inches, according to the general proportions of the figure, and yet appear
in all cases slender and elegant." We have abundant evidence before us,
however, that seventeen inches is by no means the lowest standard of
waist-measure to be met with in the fashionable circles of either London,
New York, Paris, or Vienna. Numbers of corsets sixteen inches at
the waist, and even less, are made in each of these cities every day. In
the large provincial towns, both at home and abroad, corset-makers
follow out the rules laid down by fashion. We are disposed to think,
therefore, dealing with the evidence before us, that a lady of medium
stature and average breadth of shoulder would be subscribing to the
laws of fashionable taste if the circumference of her waist was not
more than from seventeen to nineteen inches, measuring outside the
Fashion has indulged in some strange freaks regarding the length
and position of the waist, as a reference to many of the illustrations
will show, but its true position can be laid down so clearly that no
doubt need remain on the matter. A line drawn midway between the
hip and the lowest rib gives the exact point from which the tapering
194 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
form of the waist should spring, and by keeping this rule in view it
appears the statement made by so many ladies (that provided ample
space is allowed for the chest the waist may be laced to an extreme of
smallness without injury) has much truth to support it. The con-
tributors to works of popular instruction even in our own day are very
lavish in their denunciations of the practice of wearing corsets, and,
following in the track of the ancient writers on the same subject, muster
such a deadly and tremendously formidable array of ailments, failings, and
diseases as inseparably associated with the wearing of that particular
article of attire, that the very persons for whom these terrors are
invoked, seeing from their own daily experience how overdrawn they
are and how little knowledge their authors show about the subject,
laugh the whole matter to scorn and follow the fashion. We have now
before us a very talented and well-conducted journal, in which there are
some sweeping blows at the use of both corsets and high-heeled boots or
shoes, and, as an instance of the frightfully severe way in which the ladies
of the time (1842) laced themselves, the writer assures us that he had
actually seen a young lady's waistbelt which measured exactly "twenty-
two inches," " showing that the chest to which it was applied had been
reduced to a diameter (allowing for clothes) of little more than seven
inches." The chest is thus shown as being about one inch less than the
waist. Now, in 1842 it must have been a very eccentric lady indeed
who formed her waist round her chesty and as to the twenty-two-inch
waistband, we cannot help thinking that the majority of our readers
would seek one of considerably smaller size as an indication of the
practice of tight-lacing in the owner. And now on the score of high-
heeled boots and slippers, we are, like the immortal boy in Pickwick,
" going to make your flesh creep." In writing of these terrible engines
of destruction our mentor says — " From the uneasiness and constraint
experienced in the feet sympathetic affections of a dangerous kind often
assail the stomach and chest, as haemorrhage, apoplexy, and consumption.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 1 95
Low-heeled shoes, with sufficient room for the toes, would completely
prevent all such consequences."
How the shareholders of life assurance companies must quake in
their shoes as the smart and becoming footgear of the period meets their
distracted vision at every turn ! and what between the fatal high heels
and waists of deadly taperness, it is a wonder that female existence can
continue, and that all the policies do not fall due in less than a week,
all the undertakers sink into hopeless idiocy in a day from an over-
whelming press of business, and all the gentlemen engage in sanguinary
encounter for the possession of the "last woman" who has survived
the common fate by reason of her barefooted habits and of her early
abandonment of stays.
We do not find, as a matter of fact, that the Registrar-General has
his duties materially increased, or that the bills of female mortality are
by any means alarming, although on a moderate calculation there are
considerably over twelve million corsets in the United Kingdom alone,
laced with as many laces round as many waists every day in the week,
with, in many instances, a little extra tension for Sundays.
We learn from the columns of Once a Week that the total value of stays
made for British consumption annually, cannot be less than £1,000,000
sterling, to produce which about 36,000,000 yards of material are
required. The stay trade of London employs more than 1 0,000 in town
and country, whilst the provincial firms employ about 25,000 more ; of
these, about 8,000 reside in London, and there is about one male to every
twenty-five women. Returns show that we receive every year from France
and Germany about 2,000,000 corsets. One corset-manufacturer in the
neighbourhood of Stuttgard has, we are informed, over 1,300 persons in
constant employment, and turns out annually about 300,000 finished
corsets. Messrs. Thomson and Co., the manufacturers of the glove-
fitting corset, turn out incredible numbers from their immense manu-
factories in England, America, and on the continent. It will be
I96 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
readily conceived that the colonial demand and consumption is pro-
portionately great. The quantity of steel annually made use of for
the manufacture of stay-busks and crinolines is perfectly enormous.
Of the importance of the whale fishery, and the great value of whale-
bone, it will be needless to speak here, further than to inform our
readers that more than half the whalebone which finds its way into
the market is consumed by the corset-makers. Silk, cotton, and
wool, in very large quantities, are either spun up into laces or used
in the sewing or manufacture of the corset itself. No inconsiderable
quantity of timber is made use of for working up into busks. Ox-
horn, ebonite, gutta-percha, and hardened brass are all occasionally
used for the same purpose, whilst the brass eyelet-holes, of which we
shall have to say more by-and-by, are turned out in such vast and
incalculable quantities, that any attempt at computing their number would
be useless. It will be seen by these statistics and remarks that, unlike
certain other articles of raiment which have reigned in popular esteem
for a time, and then passed away, the corset has not only become an
established institution throughout the whole civilised world, but is of
immense commercial importance, and in rapidly-increasing demand and
We shall now have to remark on some of the most noteworthy
forms of the corset worn at the present day, contrasting them with
those of the olden time. The steel corset-covers we have already figured
and described. On these contrivances being found heavy and too un-
bending in their construction, a form of corset was, as we have before
said, contrived, which needed no cover to preserve its perfect smoothness
of surface and rigidity of form ; the front was therefore enriched with
gold and silver tissue, and ornamented with embroidery, performing the
part of both corset and stomacher, whilst the back was made of a heavier
material, because the dress of the period often concealed it.
The annexed illustrations are carefully sketched from a very excellent
CORSET, TORMIXG BOTH CORSET AND STOMACHER (FrO^sT).
COKSET, FORMING BOTH COKSET AND StOMACHEB (BACK).
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
specimen of this form of corset or bodice, kindly lent us for the purpose
by Messrs. Simmons, the well-known costumiers of Tavistock-street,
Covent Garden, by whom it has been preserved as a great curiosity.
The materials used in its construction are very strong, whilst every part
the least liable to be put out of form is literally plated with whalebone,
making its weight considerable. The lace-holes are worked with blue
silk, and are very numerous and close together.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
Remarks on front-fastening stays — Thomson's glove-fitting Corsets — Plan for adding
stability to the front-fastening Corset — De la Garde's French Corset — System of
self-measurement — The Redresseur Corset of Vienna and its influence on the figures
of young persons — Remarks on the flimsy materials used in the manufacture of
Corsets — Hints as to proper materials — The " Minet Back" Corset described — Elastic
Corsets condemned — The narrow bands used as substitutes for Corsets injurious to the
figure — Remarks on the proper application of the Corset with the view to the
production of a graceful figure — Thomson's Zephyrina Crinoline — Costume of the
present season — The claims of Nature and Art considered — The belle of Damara
TT would be difficult to find a much more marked contrast to the
style of bodice referred to in our last chapter than is to be found in
the ordinary cheap front-fastening corset commonly sold by drapers.
Common Cheap Stat, Fastened.
The accompanying illustrations accurately represent it, and those who
have written on the subject have much reason on their side when they
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
insist that it neither aids in the formation of a good figure nor helps to
maintain the proportions of one when formed. Corsets such as these
have neither beauty of contour nor compactness of construction. The
two narrow busks through which the holes are drilled for the reception
of the studs or catches are too often formed of steel so low in quality
that fracture at these weak points is a common occurrence, when some
Common Cheap Stay, Opew
danger of injury from the broken ends is to be apprehended. It will
also be found that when these bars or plates are deficient in width and
insufficient in stiffness the corset will no longer support the figure, or
form a foundation for the dress to be neatly adjusted over. On the
introduction of the front-fastening system it was at once seen that much
saving of time and trouble was gained by the great facility with which
corsets constructed according to it could be put on and off, but the
objections before referred to were soon manifest, and the ingenuity of
inventors was called into action to remedy and overcome them, and it
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
was during this transition stage in the history of the corset that the front-
fastening principle met with much condemnation at the hands of those
who made the formation of the figure a study. From Thomson and
Co., of New York, we have received a pattern of their "glove-fitting
corset" the subject of the accompanying illustration, in the formation of
which the old evils have been most successfully dealt with. The steels
are of the highest class of quality and of the requisite degree of
The Glove-Fitting Corset (Thomson and Co.)
substance to insure both safety and sustaining power. Accidental un-
fastening of the front, so common, and, to say the least of it, incon-
venient, in the old form of attachment, is rendered impossible by the
introduction of a very ingenious but simple spring latch, which is opened
or closed in an instant at the pleasure of the wearer. This corset is
decidedly the best form on the front-fastening plan we have seen. Its
mode of construction is excellent ; it is so cut as to admit of its adapting
itself to every undulation of the figure with extraordinary facility. We
have suggested to the firm the advisability of furnishing to the public
Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Front).
Corset of Messrs. De La Garde, Paris (Back).
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 200,
corsets combining their excellent method of cutting, great strength of
material, and admirable finish, with the single steel busk and hind-lacing
arrangement of the ordinary stay. The requirements of all would be
then met, for although numbers of ladies prefer the front-fastening
corset, it will be observed that a great number of those who have written
on the subject, and make the formation and maintenance of the figure a
study, positively declare from experience that the waist never looks so
small or neatly proportioned as when evenly and well laced in the hind-
lacing and close-fronted form of corset. It has of late become the custom
to remedy the want of firmness and stability found to exist in many of the
common front-fastening corsets by sewing a kind of sheath or case on the
inside of the front immediately behind the two steels on which the studs
and slots are fixed ; into this a rather wide steel busk is passed, so that
the division or opening has the centre line of the extra busk immediately
behind it. That this plan answers in some measure the desired end
there is no doubt, but in such a corset as that of Thomson and Co. no
such expedient is needed.
The accompanying illustrations are from sketches made expressly
for this work from a corset made by De La Garde and Co., of Paris,
and our readers will form their own opinion as to the contour of the
figure from which these drawings were made, which is that of a lady
who has for many years worn corsets made by the above-mentioned firm.
The waist-measure is eighteen inches. The remarks as to the advisa-
bility of having corsets made to measure are scarcely borne out by her
experiences. She informs us that it has always been her custom to
forward to Messrs. De La Garde and Co.'s agent the measure taken
round the chest below the arms, from beneath the arm to the hip, the
circumference of the hips, and the waist-measure, when the fit is a matter
of certainty. By adopting this system ladies residing in the country can,
she assures us, always provide themselves with corsets made by the first
manufacturers in Europe without the trouble and inconvenience of being
2IO THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
attended for the purpose of measurement. In ordering the "glove-fitting
corset" the waist measure only need be given. From M. Weiss, of
Vienna, we have received a pattern and photographs from which our other
illustrations are taken. Here we have represented the so-called " redres-
seur" corset, devised mainly with a view to the formation of the figure
in young persons, or where careless and awkward habits of posture
have been contracted. It will be seen on examination that the front of
the chest is left entirely free for expansion, the waist only being confined
at the point where restraint is most called for. The back is supported
and kept upright by the system of boning adopted with that view, and
the shoulder-straps, after passing completely round the point of the
shoulder, are hooked together behind, thus bringing the shoulders in
their proper position and keeping them there. As a corrective and
improver to the figure there can be no doubt that the redresseur corset
is a safe and most efficient contrivance. We have had an opportunity of
seeing it worn, and can testify to the marked and obvious improvement
which was at once brought about by its application.
We have heard many complaints lately of the flimsy manner in
which corsets of comparatively high price are turned out by their
makers, the stitching being so weak that re-sewing is not unfrequently
needed after a few days' wear. The edges of the whalebones, too,
instead of being rounded off and rendered smooth, are often, we find,
left as sharp as a knife, causing the coutil or other material to be
cut through in a very few days. The eyelet-holes are also made so
small and narrow at the flanges that no hold on the material is afforded,
and even the most moderate kind of lacing causes them to break from
their hold, fall out, and leave a hole in the material of which the corset
is made, which if not immediately repaired by working round in the old-
fashioned way rapidly enlarges, frays out, and runs into an unsightly hole.
Corset-makers should see that the circle of metal beyond the orifice
through which the lace passes is sufficiently wide to close down perfectly
The "Kedresseur" Corset of Vienna (Weiss).
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 213
on the fabric, and retain a firm hold of it ; if they do not do so, the old
worked eyelet-hole is preferable to the stud, notwithstanding the neat
appearance of the stud and the apparent advantage it has over the old plan.
A form of corset made without lacing-holes, known as the " Minet Back"
with which many of our readers will no doubt be familiar, and which
was extensively worn in France some few years ago, is still to be obtained
of some few makers in England. This has a row of short strong loops
sewn just beyond each back whalebone. Through these pass from top to
bottom, on each side of the back, a long round bar of strong whalebone,
which is secured in its place by a string passing through a hole made in its
top to the upper loop of each row. The lace (a flat silk one) was passed
through the spaces between the loops, and was tightened over the smooth
round whalebone, thus enabling the wearer not only to lace with extreme
tightness without danger to the corset, but admitting of its almost
instant removal by slightly slackening the lace and then drawing out one
of the bars, which immediately sets the interlacing free from end to end.
We are rather surprised that more of these corsets are not worn, as
there are numerous advantages attendant on them. Our space will not
admit of our more than glancing en passant at the various inventions
which have from time to time been brought to the notice of the public.
By some inventors the use of elastic webbing or woven indiarubber cloth
was taken advantage of, and great stress was laid on the resilient
qualities of the corsets to which it was applied. But it must never be
lost sight of that all materials of an elastic nature, when fitted tightly to
the figure, not only have the power of expanding on the application
of force, but are unceasingly exercising their own extensive powers of
contraction. Thus, no amount of custom could ever adapt the waist to
the space allotted to it, as with the elastic corset it is changing every
second, and always exercising constriction even when loosely laced. The
narrow bands hollowed out over the hips may be, as some writers on
the subject have stated, adapted for the possessors of very slight figures
2 14 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
who ride much on horseback ; but many ladies of great experience in the
matter strongly condemn them as being inefficient and calculated to lead
to much detriment to the figure. Thus writes a correspondent to the
Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine : —
" As one of your correspondents recommends the waistbands in lieu
of corsets, I have during the last three weeks made a trial of them, and
shall be glad if you will allow me to express my opinion that they are
not only disadvantageous but positively dangerous to the figure. Your
correspondent says that ordinary corsets, if drawn in well at the waist,
hurt a woman cruelly all the way up. I can only say that if she finds
such to be the case the remedy is in her own hands. If ladies would
only take the trouble to have their stays made to measure for them,
and have plenty of room allowed round the chest, not only would the
waist look smaller, but no discomfort would be felt such as H. W.
describes. Young girls should always be accurately fitted, but it is, I
have found, a mistake to have their corsets too flimsy or elastic. I quite
agree that they should be commenced early — indeed, they usually are
so, and thus extreme compression being unnecessary, the instances
brought forward by the lady who commenced the discussion and by
Nora must, I think, be looked upon as exceptional cases.
" Effie Margetson."
Another lady writing in the same journal says — "No one will
grudge ' The Young Lady Herself any sympathy she may claim for the
torture she has submitted to, but so far from her case being condem-
natory of stays it is the reverse, for she candidly admits that she does not
suffer ill-health. Now such a case as hers is an exception, and the
stout young lady spoken of by Nora is also an exception, for it is
seldom that girls are allowed to attain the age of fourteen or fifteen
before commencing stays. The great secret is to begin their use as
early as possible, and no such severe compression will be requisite. It
seems absurd to allow the w r aist to grow large and clumsy, and then to
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 215
reduce it again to more elegant proportions by means which must at first
be more or less productive of inconvenience. There is no article of
civilised dress which, when first begun to be worn, does not feel uncom-
fortable for a time to those who have never worn it before. The bare-
footed Highland lassie carries her shoes to the town, puts them on on
her arrival, and discards them again directly she leaves the centre of
civilisation. A hat or a coat would be at first insupportable to the men
of many nations, and we all know how soon the African belle threw
aside the crinoline she had been induced to purchase. But surely no one
would argue against these necessary articles of dress merely on the
ground of inconvenience to the wearer, for, however uncomfortable they
may be at first, it is astonishing how soon that feeling goes off" and how
indispensable they become. My opinion is that stays should always be
made to order, and not be of too flimsy a construction. I think H. W.'s
suggestions regarding the waistbands only applicable to middle-aged
ladies or invalids, as they do not give sufficient support to growing girls,
and are likely to make the figure look too much like a sack tied round
the middle instead of gradually tapering to the waist. Brisbane's letter
shows how those who have never tried tight-lacing are prejudiced
against it, and that merely from being shown a print in an old medical
work, while Nora's letter is infinitely more valuable, as showing how
even the most extreme lacing can be employed without injury to health.
Such a work as this would be incomplete without some remarks
touching the best means to be applied for the achievement of the
desired end, and hence a letter from a lady of great experience, who has
paid much attention to the subject, contributed to the Englishwoman's
Domestic Magazine, enables us to give the very best possible kind of
information — viz., that gathered by personal observation. Thus she
writes : —
"In the numerous communications on the subject of tight-lacing
2l6 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
which have appeared in the Etiglishwo?nan' > s Domestic Magazine, but
little has been said on the best mode of applying the corset in order to
produce elegance of figure. It seems to me that nearly all those who
suffer from tight-lacing do so from an injudicious use of the corset, and
in such cases the unfortunate corset generally gets all the blame, and not
the wearer who makes an improper use of it. I can easily understand
that a girl who is full grown, or nearly so, and who has been unac-
customed to wear tight stays, should find it difficult and painful to lace
in her waist to a fashionable size ; but if the corset be worn at an early
age and the figure gradually moulded by it, I know of no terrible
consequences that need be apprehended. I would therefore recommend
the early use of a corset that fits the figure nicely and no more. Now,
simply wearing stays that only Jit, will, when a girl is growing, in a great
measure prevent the waist from becoming clumsy. If, however, on her
reaching the age of fourteen or fifteen, her waist be still considered too
large, a smaller corset may be worn with advantage, which should be
gradually tightened till the requisite slimness is achieved. I know of so
many instances in which, under this system, girls have, when full grown,
possessed both a good figure and good health, that I can recommend it
with confidence to those parents who wish their children to grow up into
elegant and healthy women. As to whether compression of the waist
by symmetrical corsets injures the health in any way, opinion seems to be
divided. The personal experiences of tight-lacers, as your correspondent
Belle has observed, will do more to solve this knotty question than any
amount of theory. But whatever conclusion we may come to on this
point, there is no denying the fact that very many of the strongest and
healthiest women one sees in society habitually practise tight-lacing, and
apparently do so with impunity.
"An Old Subscriber."
As we have before stated, the remarks and observations contained in
the above letter are the result of careful study and a thorough acquaint-
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
ance with the subject, and not of hasty conclusion, prejudice, or theory.
A letter in the earlier portion of this work, from an old Edinburgh cor-
respondent to the Queen, than whom few are more competent to direct
and advise on this important subject, will be found precisely to the same
end, and we feel sure, in laying before the reader such united experiences,
that much will be done towards the establishment of such a system of
management as will lead to the almost certain achievement of grace and
elegance of figure without the sacrifice of health. That these are most
important and desirable objects for attainment few would be puritanical
and headstrong enough to deny, and there can be no question that, how-
ever superb or simple a lady's costume may be, it is mainly dependent for
its elegance of adjustment and distinctiveness of style to the corset and
crinoline beneath it.
We have seen how Mrs. Selby's invention influenced the world of
fashion in her day, and a glance at the illustration at page 114 will be
sufficient to prove how inferior, in point of grace and elegance, the
costume of that period was to that of our own time. Some idea may
be formed of the wide-spread and almost universal attention which
Mrs. Selby's wondrous " crinoline conception^ met at the hands of the
fashionable world by a perusal of the following lines, which were
written at Bath concerning it in the year 171 1, and are entitled, The
Farthingale Reviewed ; or, More Work for the Cooper. A paneygerick
on the late but most admirable invention of the hooped petticoat.
"There's scarce a bard that writ in former time
Had e'er so great, so bright a theme for rhyme ;
The Mantua swain, if living, would confess
Ours more surprising than his Tyrian dress,
And Ovid's mistress, in her loose attire,
Would cease to charm his eyes or fan Love's fire.
Were he at Bath, and had these coats in view,
He'd write his Metamorphosis anew,
2l8 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
" Delia, fresh hooped, would o'er his heart prevail,
To leave Corinna and her tawdry veil.
Hear, great Apollo ! and my genius guide,
To sing this glorious miracle of pride,
Nor yet disdain the subject for its name,
Since meaner things have oft been sung to Fame ;
Even boots and spurs have graced heroic verse,
Butler his knight's whole suit did well rehearse;
King Harry's costume stands upon record,
And every age will precedents afford.
Then on, my Muse, and sing in epic strain
The petticoat — thou shalt not sing in vain,
The petticoat will sure reward thy pain ;
With all thy skill its secret virtues tell —
A petticoat should still be handled well.
" Oh garment heavenly wide ! thy spacious round
Do's my astonished thoughts almost confound ;
My fancy cannot grasp thee at a view,
None at first sight e'er such a picture drew.
The daring artist that describes thee true,
Must change his sides as modern statesmen do,
Or like the painter, when some church he draws,
Following his own, and not the builder's laws,
At once shows but the prospect to the sight,
For north and south together can't be right.
"Hence, ye profane! nor think I shall reveal
The happy wonders which these vests conceal ;
Hence your unhallow'd eyes and ears remove,
'Tis Cupid's circle, 'tis the orb of Love.
Let it suffice you see th' unwieldy fair
Sail through the streets with gales of swelling air;
Nor think (like fools) the ladies, would they try,
Arm'd with their furbelows and these, could fly.
That's all romantick, for these garments show
Their thoughts are with their petticoats below.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE. 2 10,
" Nor must we blame them whilst they stretch their art
In rich adornment and being wondrous smart ;
For that, perhaps, may stand 'em more in stead
Than loads of ribbons fluttering on the head.
And, let philosophers say what they will,
There's something surer than their eyes do's kill ;
We tell the nymph that we her face adore,
But plain she sees we glance at something more.
"In vain the ladies spend their morning hours
Erecting on their heads stupendous towers ;
A batteiy from thence might scare the foe,
But certain victory is gained below.
Let Damon then the adverse champion be —
Topknots for him, and petticoats for me ;
Nor must he urge it spoils the ladies' shape,
Tho' (as the multitude at monsters gape)
The world appears all lost in wild amaze,
As on these new, these strange machines they gaze ;
For if the Queen the poets tell us of, from Paphos came,
Attired as we are told by antique fame,
Thus would they wonder at the heavenly dame.
" I own the female world is much estranged
From what it was, and top and bottom changed.
The head was once their darling constant care,
But women's heads can't heavy burdens bear —
As much, I mean, as they can do elsewhere ;
So wisely they transferred the mode of dress,
And furnished t'other end with the excess.
What tho' like spires or pyramids they show,
Sharp at the top, and vast of bulk below ?
It is a sign they stand the more secure :
A maypole will not like a church endure,
And ships at sea, when stormy winds prevail,
Are safer in their ballast than their sail.
"Hail, happy coat! for modern damsels fit,
Product of ladies' and of taylors' wit ;
2 20 THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
" Child of Invention rather than of Pride,
What wonders dost thou show, what wonders hide !
Within the shelter of thy useful shade,
Thin Galatea's shrivelled limbs appear
As plump and charming as they did last year ;
Whilst tall Miranda her lank shape improves,
And, graced by thee, in some proportion moves.
Ev'n those who are diminutively short
May please themselves and make their neighbours sport,
When, to their armpits harnessed up in thee,
Nothing but head and petticoats we see.
But, oh ! what a figure fat Sempron'ia makes !
At her gigantick form the pavement quakes ;
By thy addition she's so much enlarged,
Where'er she comes, the sextons now are charged
That all church doors and pews be wider made —
A vast advantage to a joiner's trade.
"Ye airy nymphs, that do these garments wear,
Forgive my want of skill, not want of care £
Forgive me if I have not well displayed
A coat for such important uses made.
If aught I have forgot, it was to prove
How fit they are, how apropos for love,
How in their circles cooling zephyrs play,
Just as a tall ship's sails are filled on some bright summer day.
But there my Muse must halt — she dares no more
Than hope the pardon which she ask'd before."
Fashions have altered, times have changed, hooped petticoats have
been in turn honoured and banished, just as the fickle goddess of the
mirror has decreed. Still, as an arrow shot in the air returns in time to
earth, so surely does the hooped jupon return to power after a
temporary estrangement from the world of gaiety. The illustration
on page 223 represents the last new form of crinoline, and there can
be no doubt that its open form of front is a most important and note-
The Fashion or 18G8.
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
worthy improvement. Preceding this engraving, we have an illustration
representing two ladies in the costume of the present season arranged
over " the glove-fitting corset" and " Zephyrina jupon," for patterns of
both of which we are indebted to the courtesy of Messrs. Thomson and
Co., the inventors and manufacturers.
The Zephyrina Jupon.
It is the custom with some authors to uphold the claims of nature in
matters relating to human elegance, and we admit that nature in her own
way is particularly charming, so long as the accessories and surroundings
are in unison. But in the human heart everywhere dwells an innate
love of adornment, and untaught savages, in their toilet appliances and
tastes, closely resemble the belles of highly-civilised communities. We
have already referred to the crinoline petticoats worn by the Tahitian
girls when they were first seen by the early navigators. The frilled ruff
THE CORSET AND THE CRINOLINE.
which so long remained a high court favourite during the Elizabethan
period (and which, if we mistake not, will again have its day) was as
well known to the dusky beauties of the palm-clad, wave-lashed islands
of the Pacific, when Cook first sailed forth to discover new lands, as it
was to the stately and proud dames of Venice. Beneath, we place
side by side types of savage elegance and refined taste. Where the one
begins and the other ends, who shall say ?
Tahitian Dancing Gikl.
Adventure, an, of Louise do Lorraine, 92, 97.
Alarming disoases said to bo produced by wearing
high-heeled shoes, 194, 195.
Ancient inhabitants of Polonqui, reduction of the
waist by, 10.
An Italian duchess, the costume of, 54.
Antiquities of Egypt, researches among, 25 — 2 7>
Augsburg, the ladies of, by Hoechstettcrus, 104.
Austria, Empress of, elegant figure of, 165.
Backboards and stocks, 134.
Bands (narrow), used as substitutes for corsets
injurious, 213, 214.
Barbers, an army of, no.
Beauties of Circassia, 13, 14.
Beauty, Hindoo ideas regarding, 19, 20.
Belles of India, 19, 20.
Belt (ornamented) of the Indians, 9.
Bernaise dress, 65.
Blanche, daughter of Edward III., dress of, 49.
Boarding-school discipline, letter on, 170, 171.
Boddice, bodice, or bodies, 123.
Bonnet a canon, the, 60.
Bouffant sleeves of the reign of Henry II., 65.
Bridal dress of an Israelitish lady, 28.
Buchan, writings of, 130.
Ceylon, figure-training in, 13.
Chaucer's writings, his admiration of small waists,
Chinese gentleman, letter from a, 20.
Cleopatra and her jewels, 37.
Clumsy figures great drawbacks to young ladies,
Conquest of the Roman Empire, 38.
Corps, the, 72, 75.
Corset, a peculiar form of, worn by some ladies of
fashion in France, 190.
Corset in use among the Israelitish ladies, 28, 29.
Corset, general use of the, on the Continent for
boys, 136 — 138.
Corset, origin of, 9.
Corset, use of by the inhabitants of the Eastern
Corset-covers (steel), 75.
Corsets and high-heeled shoes denounced, 194, 195.
Corsets, custom of wearing during sleep, 150, 153.
Corsets for growing girls, remarks on, 167, 168.
Corsets of the present day contrasted with those
of the olden time, 196.
Corsets, remarks on the proper application of,
214 — 216.
Corsets, severe form of, worn in the Elizabethan
period, 75, 76.
Corsets, the small size of, made in London, 165.
Corsets, their use for youths, 1 38.
Corsets worn by gentlemen in 1265, 46.
Corsets worn by gentlemen of the present time,
Costume a l'enfant, 98.
Costume a la Watteau, 109.
Costume of the court of Louis XYL, 124.
Costumes of the ladies of Israel, 27 — 29.
Cottes hardies, 41.
Crim Tartary, beautiful princesses of, 14, 19.
Crinoline among the South Sea Islanders, 143.
Crinoline and slender waists, remarks of Madame
La Sante on, 143, 144.
Crinoline not a new term, 143.
Cromwell's time, tight-lacing in, 104.
De La Garde's French corsets, 209, 210.
Demon of fashion, a monkish satire, 42.
Determined tailor, a, 55.
Dress in 1776, 129.
Dress, its elegance dependent on the corset, 1 89.
Dresses (low) of 1713, 115.
Dunbar's Thistle and Rose, 50.
Earth-eating in Java, 13.
Hindoo belles, 19, 20.
Eastern Archipelago, nse of the corset in, 10.
Hindoo standards of beauty, 19, 20.
Edict of the Emperor Joseph of Austria forbidding
Hogarth, stays drawn by, 1 29.
the use of stays, 66.
Homer speaks of the corset, 30.
Edinburgh, Traditions of, anecdote from, 144.
Egyptian fashions and costumes, 25 — 27.
Improvements in corsets brought about by the
Elastic corsets condemned, 213.
advance of civilisation, 10.
Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, entry in household
Indian hunting-belt, 9, 10.
register of, 45, 46.
Israelitish ladies, 27 — 29.
Elegance of figure highly esteemed by the Per-
Jane Shore, penance of, 46 — 49.
Elegant costumes of the ancient Jewish ladies,
Java, earth-eating in, 13.
Jonson (Ben), his remarks on stays, 123.
Empress of Austria, the, portrait of, 166.
Jumpers and Garibaldis, 130.
Escapade of young Louis of France, 98.
Extravagance of the Roman ladies, 36.
King Charles I. of England, fashions of the court
King George III., fashion in the reign of, 135.
Families, Medici, Este, and Visconti, 54.
Family man, letter from a, 184, 185.
King James and his fondness for dress, 89, 90.
Farthingale, the, protest against, no.
King Louis XV. of France, fashion in the reign
Fashionable promenades of Ancient Rome, 35.
Fashion and dress in 1865, 189.
Kirtle, the, 46.
Fashion in the reign of King Pepin, 41.
Fashion in 1713, 115.
Ladies of Old France, 41.
Fashions in Ancient Egypt, 27 — 29.
Lady Morton, diminutive waist of, 166.
Figure, general remarks on the, 182.
Lady Triamore, daughter of the King of the Fairies,
Figure, letter on the, 190 — 193.
Figure, reduction of, by the ancient inhabitants of
Lady's-maid, accomplishments of a, 123.
Launfal, poem of, 45-
Figure -training, 133, 167.
Lawn ruffs of Queen Bess, 82, 87.
Food, abstinence from, an assistance to the corset ,
Laws, sumptuary, relating to dress, 90.
Letter from a lady, who habitually laces with
Freaks of fashion in France and Germany, 54.
extreme tightness, in praise of the practice,
French revolutionary period, dress during, 1 29.
Front-fastening stays, remarks concerning,
Letters from ladies who have been subjected to
202 — 204.
tight-lacing, 155 — 164.
Louis XIV. of France, court of, 98.
Gay, the writings of, 123.
Louis XIV. of France, the court of, high-heeled
Guardian, the, correspondence from, relating to
shoes, slender waists, and fancy costumes,
the fashions of 1713, no, 115, 116, 119, 120, 121,
fashionable at, 98.
Louise de Lorraine, fete dress of, 97.
Guardian, the, letters from, relating to low dresses
Louise de Lorraine, strange freaks of, 92, 97.
and tight stays, 120 — 123.
Gustavus Adolphus, the officers of, 135.
Marie d'Anjou, costume of, 54-
Marie de Medici and the costumes of her time, 97.
Hair powder, its introduction, 97.
Marie Stuart, costume of, 159.
Henry III. of France a wearer of corsets, 76, 81.
Medical evidence in favour of stays, 134, 135.
Medical man, letter from, in favour of moderately
tight lacing, 154, 155.
Minet hack corset described, 213.
Mitra used by the Grecian ladies, 33.
Modo of adding stability to tho trout-fastening
Mortality among tho female sex not on tho increase,
Old authors, their remarks on stays, 194.
Peplus, the, 33.
Proportions of the figure and size of waist con-
Puritanism, its effect on fashion, 104.
Queen Anne, fashions during the reign of, no.
Queen Catherine de Medici and Queen Elizabeth
of England, 72, 75.
Queen Elizabeth's collection of false hair, 87, 88.
Queen newspaper, letter from, on small waists,
Redresseur corset of Vienna, 210.
Remarks on the changes of fashion, 143.
Remarks on the flimsy materials used in making
some modem corsets, 210.
Revival of the taste for small waists in Old
Roman baths, 34, 35.
Royal standard of fashionable slenderness, 72.
Scotland, small waists admired in, in olden times,
Scriptural references, 29.
Selby, Mrs., the invention of, reviewed, 217.
Self -measurement, remarks concerning, 209.
Short waists and long trains, 129.
Siamese dress, the, 98.
Side-arms of the Elizabethan period, 91.
Snake-toed shoes, long sleeves, and high-heeled
Starching, tho art of, 82.
Statistics, extraordinary, of the corset trade,
, " 9S '
Statue, a fashionably dressed, 180.
Stays, formidable kind of, in use in 1776, 129.
Stays, the general use of the word after 1600 in
Stays worn habitually by gentlemen, 135.
Strophium, the use of, by the ladies of Rome, 33.
Stubs, Philip, on tho ruff, 87—89.
Stubs, bis indignation, 88, 89.
Taper waists and figure -training in Ancient Rome,
Terentius, strictures and remarks of, 30.
Thirteenth century, the small waists of, 42.
Thomson's glove-fitting corsets, 204, 205.
Tight corsets, letter in praise of, 182, 183.
Tight corsets needed for short waists, 190.
Tight-lacing revived, 130.
Toilet of a Roman lady of fashion, 34 — 36.
United States of America, belles of the, 153.
Venice, fashions of the ladie3 of, 82, 87.
Venus de Medici, waist of, contrasted with the
waist of fashion, 180.
Venus, the cestus of, 30.
Vienna, slender waists the fashion in, 165.
Voluminous nether-garments of the gentlemen of
the Elizabethan period, 82.
Waist, the point at which it should be formed,
Young Baronet, letter from, 184.
Zephyrina jupon of Thomson and Co., 221.
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1 The Wonders of the World,
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I've Been Thinking •, or, The
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